Hemochromatosis is a serious chronic condition that develops when the body absorbs too much iron from foods and other sources such as vitamins containing iron over many years and that excess iron builds up in your organ tissues (such as the heart tissues and liver tissues).
Hemochromatosis is caused as a result of a gene mutation that causes the body to absorb more than a healthy amount of iron. It’s less likely to occur as a complication of other blood disorders, chronic transfusion therapy, chronic hepatitis or excessive iron ingestion. Hemochromatosis can have other causes, in the U.S. the disease is usually caused by a genetic disorder. If you inherit the defective gene from both of your parents you may develop hemochromatosis. The genetic defect of hemochromatosis is present at birth, but symptoms rarely appear before adulthood. This type of disease is also called hereditary hemochromatosis.
There are a variety of symptoms and they may be different in men and women. It can be hard to identify because early symptoms are similar to many other common diseases. Most people reach middle-age before they have symptoms of hemochromatosis, and some can have symptoms at a younger age. The symptoms depends on the organs that are effected by the iron build-up.
Some of the early symptoms are:
- Fatigue (feeling very tired)
- Weight loss
- Abdominal (belly) pain
- Joint pain
As the iron builds up in your organs, it may also cause 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.
As the disease progresses, you may see more advanced symptoms that may cause more serious problems as follows:
- Liver problems, such as cirrhosis or scarring of the liver and liver cancer
- High blood sugar and diabetes
- Abdominal (belly) pain that doesn't go away
- Severe fatigue feeling extremely tired and having a lack of energy
- Heart problems such as a heart beat that is irregular
- Heart failure such as the heart not pumping blood as well as it did previously
- Gray-colored or bronze colored skin
In the U. S. there are more than a million people who have the gene mutation that causes hemochromatosis. This gene mutation is most common among people whose ancestors came from Europe. Not all people with iron overload develop the signs and symptoms of hemochromatosis.