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Division of Epidemiology
275 East Main Street
Frankfort, KY 40621

What is Hemochromatosis?

Hemochromatosis is a disease that occurs when too much iron builds up in the body. It is usually caused by eating foods or vitamins that contain iron. The disease causes extra iron to gradually build up in the body's tissues and organs , especially the liver, heart and pancreas. Hemochromatosis is often called iron overload disease.

What causes this condition to occur?

Hemochromatosis is usually caused by inheriting the defective gene from both parents. Although the genetic defect is present at birth, symptoms rarely appear before the individual reaches adulthood. This specific type of the disease is called hereditary hemochromatosis.

Symptoms of hemochromatosis

Symptoms include fatigue, weakness, weight loss, abdominal pain and joint pain. Because these symptoms are common with other diseases, it may be difficult to diagnose the disease when it is in its early stages.

How is it diagonsed?

Hemochromatosis can be detected through blood tests that measure how much iron is in the body. These tests can be administered in your healthcare provider's office.

Treatment for hemochromatosis

If hemochromatosis is detected early, treatment can slow its progress and prevent serious problems. The most common treatment is to have some blood taken from the arm, just like when you donate blood.  This treatment is safe and effective. Medicines can also help remove the extra iron from the body. Your doctor might suggest some changes in your diet. Patients can expect to live a normal life span if they start treatment before organ damage has begun. If the disease is not detected and treated early, it can cause more serious problems to develop, including arthritis, and heart/liver problems.

For more information

For more information on hemochromatosis, visit the CDC Web site.

Click here for Hemochromatosis - An Iron Overload Disease by the Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Last Updated 4/2/2007