Hereditary hemochromatosis is one of the most common genetic disorders in the U.S. It is passed down from parents through their genes. This disorder causes your body to absorb too much iron from the food you eat. Iron is a mineral found in many foods. But too much iron is toxic to your body. The excess iron is stored in your body’s tissues and organs. Over time, the iron builds up in your body (iron overload). It may damage your tissues and organs. Too much iron in your heart, liver, pancreas, and pituitary can cause severe problems.
There are other types of hemochromatosis. They include:
Hemochromatosis is a genetic disease. This means it is passed down from parents through their genes. It is most common in whites whose families are from Northern Europe. Men and women are equally affected by the disease.
You may be born with this condition if you inherit two hemochromatosis genes, one from each parent. If you have only one of these genes, you are called a carrier of the gene. You don’t have symptoms. But you have a greater chance of having a child with this disease.
If parents without hemochromatosis have a child with the disorder, there is a 25% chance that any additional child may be born with the disease. First-degree relatives of people with hemochromatosis should be screened for the disorder.
It’s more common for men with this condition to have too much iron. Men also tend to show symptoms at a younger age than women. This is likely because women lose iron each month when they have their period.
Each person’s symptoms may vary. Symptoms may include:
Untreated or severe hemochromatosis may lead to the following:
Symptoms may look like other health problems. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
This disease is usually found through a routine blood test. Your provider will take your medical history and give you a physical exam. You may also have 1 or more of these tests:
Your healthcare provider will create a treatment plan based on:
Treatment may include:
If your iron levels return to normal before any organs are damaged, you can live a normal lifespan with this disorder.
If not treated, hemochromatosis can lead to:
Hemochromatosis is a life-long condition. It can cause problems if iron levels in the blood are not kept at normal levels. Because of this, regular treatment with phlebotomy or chelation therapy is needed to reduce iron levels. Work with your healthcare provider to check and manage your iron levels. You should avoid iron and vitamin C supplements. You should not drink too much alcohol.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
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