Iron Overload and Hemochromatosis: Home
This Web site provides information about hemochromatosis
to help patients and their families learn more about the disease.
Like other genetic diseases, hemochromatosis runs in families.
The site includes the following information:
What is hemochromatosis?
Hemochromatosis occurs when the body absorbs too much iron from foods
(and other sources such as vitamins containing iron). This disease causes
extra iron to gradually build up in the body’s tissues and organs, a term
called iron overload. If this iron buildup is untreated, it can, over many
years, damage the body’s organs.
What are the causes?
Although hemochromatosis can have other causes, in the United States the
disease is usually caused by a genetic disorder. A person who inherits the
defective gene from both parents may develop hemochromatosis. The genetic
defect of hemochromatosis is present at birth, but symptoms rarely appear
before adulthood. Because one inherits genes from his or her parents, this
type of the disease is also called hereditary hemochromatosis.
What are the symptoms?
Early indications of hemochromatosis include the following symptoms:
- Fatigue (feeling very tired)
- Weight loss
- Abdominal pain
- Joint pain
Because these symptoms also occur with other diseases, hemochromatosis
can be difficult to diagnose in its early stages.
How is it detected?
The iron overload associated with hemochromatosis can be detected through
two blood tests. The tests measure how much iron is in the body. You can
have these tests done in your doctor’s office.
If hemochromatosis is detected early, treatment can slow its progress and
prevent serious problems. However, if the disease is not detected and
treated early, it can cause more serious problems. These problems include
arthritis, heart problems, and liver problems (such as cirrhosis and liver
What is the treatment?
Treatment consists of periodically taking blood from the arm, much like
giving blood. The treatment is safe and effective. Patients can expect a
normal life span if they start treatment before organ damage has begun.
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