Hemochromatosis is a condition that occurs when too much iron builds up in the body. Small amounts of iron are normally stored in the liver and heart, but excess iron will eventually damage these organs.
There are two types of hemochromatosis:
- Hereditary (genetic) hemochromatosis. The most common form of hemochromatosis is passed down through the genes in families.
- Acquired (secondary) hemochromatosis. A person may develop acquired hemochromatosis from having many blood transfusions, certain blood disorders (such as thalassemia), or chronic liver disease or from taking excessive or unnecessary iron supplements. In rare cases, a person may develop hemochromatosis if his or her diet contains too much iron.
Hereditary hemochromatosis is one of the most common genetic disorders in white people, especially those of Northern European descent. Excess iron builds up slowly throughout life. Most people with hemochromatosis notice symptoms when they are age 40 to 60. These symptoms include fatigue, joint pain, weakness, excess urination, and weight loss.
If hemochromatosis is recognized early, it can be treated before other problems start. It is treated by removing excess iron from the blood, either by removing blood from the body (phlebotomy) or by taking a medicine (chelating agent) that binds to and removes iron from the body. Hereditary hemochromatosis requires treatment throughout a person's life. Acquired hemochromatosis does not need further treatment after the condition has been corrected.
Current as of: February 20, 2015
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine & Brian Leber, MDCM, FRCPC - Hematology
Public Health Alerts
Public health alerts include information about outbreaks, advisories and product recalls. Click on the links below to read the most recent alerts, or visit our Public Health Alerts web page.
Want More Information?
HealthLink BC, your provincial health line, is as close as your phone or the web any time of the day or night, every day of the year.
Call 8-1-1 toll-free in B.C. or for deaf and hearing-impaired, call 7-1-1.
You can speak with a health service representative, who can also connect you with a:
- registered nurse any time, every day of the year;
- registered dietitian from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday;
- pharmacist from 5pm to 9am, every day of the year.
Translation services are available in more than 130 languages.
FIND Services and Resources
If you are looking for health services in your community, you can use our directory to FIND hospitals, clinics, and other resources.
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org
© 1995-2015 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
Is it an emergency?
If you or someone in your care has chest pains, difficulty breathing, or severe bleeding, it could be life-threatening. Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number immediately. If you are concerned about a possible poisoning or exposure to a toxic substance, call Poison Control now at 1-800-567-8911.