Your body needs iron to function, but too much can be toxic. Excess iron buildup in your blood is called hemochromatosis. If you have hemochromatosis, your body absorbs more iron than needed with no natural way to get rid of it. This excess iron is then stored in your liver, heart, pancreas and other organs. Left untreated, hemochromatosis is damaging and can lead to diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
Hemochromatosis presents earlier in men because women have a natural way through menstruation to lose blood.
Managing hemochromatosis is possible and successful treatment includes regularly removing some of your blood and its iron from your body (phlebotomy and venesection).
What are the symptoms of hemochromatosis (iron overload)?
Symptoms usually appear between the ages of 50 and 60 in men and after age 60 in women. Many symptoms of hemochromatosis are similar to those of other diseases and not everyone has symptoms. Symptoms can include:
- Joint pain
- Abdominal pain
- Bronzing of the skin
- Liver disease
What causes hemochromatosis (iron overload)?
There are two types of hemochromatosis. Primary hemochromatosis is a genetic disease inherited from parent to child and accounts for up to 90% of cases. Secondary hemochromatosis is acquired as a result of anemia, liver disease, blood transfusions (receiving blood from an external source), hepatitis C or other conditions.
How is hemochromatosis (iron overload) diagnosed?
Your doctor will learn your and your family’s medical history and perform a physical exam. Next, your doctor could order:
- Blood tests
- Genetic testing
- An MRI of the liver
- Liver biopsy (removing a tiny piece of liver for examination)
How is hemochromatosis (iron overload) treated?
Once diagnosed, prompt treatment is needed to avoid further iron buildup in your body. Treatments include regularly removing some of your blood and its iron from your body (phlebotomy and venesection), medications and a low-iron diet.