Symptoms and Signs of Iron Overload (Hemochromatosis)

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Medically Reviewed on 10/7/2022

Doctor's Notes on Iron Overload (Hemochromatosis)

Hereditary hemochromatosis (HH) is a genetic disorder that causes excess iron retention in the body. Normally, the balance of iron concentration in the body is regulated by the amount of iron stored in the body. Iron may be lost in the sweat, shed from the skin, and excreted from the cells in the intestines. Iron overload results when this regulatory mechanism is impaired and an excess amount of iron is absorbed from the intestines regardless of the iron stores already in the body.

Symptoms of hemochromatosis include

Hemochromatosis often affects the liver, pancreas, joints, skin, heart, testicles, and the thyroid gland. Symptoms that may result from these organs being affected include 

What is the treatment for hemochromatosis (HH)?

The treatment goal is to reduce the iron levels in the patient’s body. Two main methods to accomplish this are blood removal (phlebotomy) and chelation (iron bonding):

  • Blood removal – Initial treatment is to take about a pint (470 ml) once or twice a week until iron levels are normal; then have the blood removed at a slower pace (a pint every 2 – 3 months)
  • Chelation – use of a drug that binds iron and excretes it with urination; not usually used in patients with hereditary HH

Patients with HH should do the following:

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.