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.
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.
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Brian Leber, MDCM, FRCPC - Hematology