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Hemochromatosis is the buildup of too much iron in the body. The iron usually collects in the liver first. It may also collect in the blood, heart, pancreas, and other tissues and organs.
Hemochromatosis is a disease that can be passed from a parent to a child (inherited). Usually, people need an abnormal gene from each parent to get the disease. You and your family members can get a genetic test to see if the gene is present. This is important, because early treatment that removes the extra iron from your body can protect your health.
Sometimes hemochromatosis isn't inherited but is caused by something else (secondary hemochromatosis). Having too much iron can be caused by blood transfusions, liver disease, and some blood disorders, like thalassemia.
Hemochromatosis may cause belly pain, weakness, tiredness, and weight loss. It also can scar the liver, cause joint pain, and darken the skin. In late stages, it can damage the heart and joints, and can cause diabetes. Symptoms of hemochromatosis often do not appear until a person is 40 to 60 years old.
Treatment removes the excess iron from the body before it causes problems. This can be done by taking blood out of your veins every week at first. Later, most people have this done every 2 or 3 months. Once in a while, doctors prescribe medicine that removes iron from the body.
If you have hemochromatosis, your family members should tell their doctors. They will have to watch for the condition as well. Early treatment can help prevent problems later.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:
Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:
Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:
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Current as of: September 8, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.
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