Hemochromatosis -Symptoms, causes, risk factors & complications


The hereditary hemochromatosis is causing the body to absorb too much iron from the food that you eat. The excess iron is stored in your organs, especially your pancreas, heart and liver. When you have too much iron, then it can lead to life – threatening conditions, such as diabetes, heart problems and liver disease. It is known fact that those genes which cause hemochromatosis are inherited but only a minority of people who have genes ever developed serious problems. [1]

The signs and symptoms of the hereditary hemochromatosis usually appear in the midlife. The treatment is including regularly removing blood from your body. It is known that much of the body’s iron is contained in the red blood cells so the treatment is lowering the iron levels.

Hemochromatosis Symptoms


It is noticed that some people with hereditary hemochromatosis never have symptoms [2]. The early signs and symptoms of this condition often overlap with those of other common conditions. The most common symptoms include:

  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal pain
  • Joint pain

The later signs and symptoms include:

It is noticed that the hereditary hemochromatosis is present at birth. But in the most cases, people do not experience signs and symptoms until later in life which is usually between the ages of 50 and 60 in men and after age 60 in women. Women are having highest chances of developing symptoms of this condition after menopause, because this is period when they no longer lose iron with menstruation and pregnancy [3]. You should call your doctor as soon as possible if you have noticed some of the above mentioned signs and symptoms of it.

Hemochromatosis Causes

The hereditary hemochromatosis is caused by a mutation in the gene which controls the amount of iron that your body absorbs from the food that you eat [1]. These mutations are passed from parents to children and this type of hemochromatosis is the most common type of it.

Hemochromatosis Risk factors

There are some factors which can increase your risk, such as

  • Your sex: It is noticed that men are having more chances of developing signs and symptoms of hemochromatosis at an earlier age. Women lose iron through menstruation and pregnancy so they tend to store less of the mineral than men do. The risk for women increases after a hysterectomy or menopause [3].
  • Ethnicity: There are some studies in which are noticed that people of Northern Europe descent are having more chances to getting hemochromatosis compared to people of other ethnic backgrounds. Also, it is noticed that this is less common in Asian – Americans, Hispanics and African – Americans. [4]
  • Family history: If you have a first degree relative, a sibling or parent who suffers from hemochromatosis, then you are having more chances of developing this disease. [1]
  • Having 2 copies of a mutated HFE gene: This is giving the highest risk for hereditary hemochromatosis.

Hemochromatosis Complications

If the hereditary hemochromatosis is not treated, then it can lead to many different complications, especially in your joints and organs where the excess iron tends to be stored, your heart, pancreas and liver. Some complications caused by it include:

  • Skin color changes: When you have deposits of iron in the skin cells, then it can make your skin appear gray or bronze in color.
  • Reproductive problems: It is known that the excess iron can lead to absence of the menstrual cycle in women and loss of sex drive and erectile dysfunction (impotence) in men.
  • Heart problems: The excess iron in your heart is affecting the ability of your heart to circulate enough blood for your body’s needs which is known as congestive heart failure. Also, this can cause abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias). [5]
  • Pancreas problems: It is known that the damage to the pancreas can lead to diabetes. [6]
  • Liver problems: This can lead to cirrhosis which is permanent scarring of liver. It is known that cirrhosis can increase your risk of liver cancer and other life – threatening complications. [7]


[1] Bacon BR. Hemochromatosis: Discovery of the HFE gene. Missouri Medicine. 2012;109(2):133–6.

[2] Should asymptomatic haemochromatosis be treated? BMJ. 2000;320(7245):1314–7. doi:10.1136/bmj.320.7245.1314

[3] Jian J, Pelle E, Huang X. Iron and menopause: Does increased iron affect the health of postmenopausal women? Antioxidants & Redox Signaling. 2009;11(12):2939–43. doi:10.1089/ars.2009.2576

[4] Stuhrmann M, Gabriel H, Keeney S. Clinical utility gene card for: Haemochromatosis [HFE]. European Journal of Human Genetics. 2010;18:1071.

[5] Aronow WS. Management of cardiac hemochromatosis. Archives of Medical Science. 2018;14(3):560–8. doi:10.5114/aoms.2017.68729

[6] Swaminathan S, Fonseca VA, Alam MG, Shah SV. The role of iron in diabetes and its complications. Diabetes Care. 2007;30(7):1926-33.

[7] Milic S, Mikolasevic I, Orlic L, et al. The role of iron and iron overload in chronic liver disease. Medical Science Monitor. 2016;22:2144–51. doi:10.12659/MSM.896494


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