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Iron Overload and Hemochromatosis: Signs and Symptoms

Hemochromatosis can have a variety of symptoms and symptoms may be different for men and women. Hemochromatosis can be hard to identify because early symptoms are similar to those of many other common diseases.

Although most people reach middle-age before they have symptoms of hemochromatosis, some people may have symptoms at a younger age. The symptoms depend on which organs are being affected by the iron buildup.

Early Symptoms of Hemochromatosis

Early indications of hemochromatosis are often like those of other diseases and include the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue (feeling very tired)
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Abdominal pain
  • Joint pain

As iron builds up in the body organs, hemochromatosis may also produce the following symptoms:

  • Loss of menstrual periods or early menopause
  • Loss of sex drive (libido) or impotence
  • Loss of body hair
  • Shortness of breath

Although not a physical symptom, another possible indication of hemochromatosis is having an elevated liver enzyme test.

Advanced Symptoms of Hemochromatosis

As the disease progresses, hemochromatosis may cause the following more serious problems:

  • Arthritis
  • Liver problems, such as cirrhosis (or scarring of the liver) and liver cancer
  • High blood sugar and diabetes
  • Abdominal pain that does not go away
  • Severe fatigue (feeling extremely tired and having a lack of energy)
  • Heart problems (such as a heart beat that is not regular)
  • Heart failure (such as the heart not pumping blood as well as it did previously)
  • Gray-colored or bronze-colored skin
Key Point
Early symptoms of hemochromatosis, such as feeling very tired, pain in the joints, weakness, weight loss, and abdominal pain, are like the symptoms of other diseases, but may indicate the presence of iron buildup and hemochromatosis. Elevated liver enzyme tests may also indicate the presence of iron buildup and hemochromatosis.

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Hemochromatosis: What Every Clinician and Health Care Professional Needs to Know
Hemochromatosis: What Every Clinician and
Health Care Professional Needs to Know

Cover of Iron Overload and Hemocromatosis Brochure:  Information for Patients and Their Families
Iron overload and Hemochromatosis
Information for Patients and Family


Contact Info

Thank you for visiting the CDC-NCBDDD Web site. Click here to contact the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities

We are not able to answer personal medical questions. Please see your health care provider concerning appropriate care, treatment, or other medical advice.

Date last reviewed: 11/01/2007
Content source: Division of Hereditary Blood Disorders, National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities
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