Hemochromatosis: Overview

Hemochromatosis is an “iron overload” disorder due to excess iron in the blood. The most common form is called “Hereditary Hemochromatosis” where a genetic disorder causes an increase in the amount of iron absorbed. The disorder causes problems with joints, the skin, the pancreas (causing “bronze diabetes”), the liver, the pituitary gland, and the heart. However, the onset of symptoms is insidious and early symptoms are mild for many years, often remaining undiagnosed until the 50’s. Women are rarely affected, due to the natural loss of iron from menstruation. Late-stage symptoms are mainly the symptoms of the various nasty complications: bronze-like skin color, arthritis-like symptoms (e.g. joint pain), diabetes (see symptoms of diabetes), liver symptoms, heart failure (see symptoms of heart failure), pituitary gland symptoms, and so on. Treatment of hemochromatosis is surprisingly simple and effective: regular blood withdrawals to remove iron from the body and maintain normal blood iron levels. Additional treatments are required for complications. Prognosis mainly depends on whether the disease has been detected early enough to avoid permanent damage to vital organs.

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