Hemochromatosis, the most common form of iron overload disease, is an inherited disorder that causes the body to absorb and store too much iron. The extra iron builds up in organs and damages them. Without treatment, the disease can cause these organs to fail.
Iron is an essential nutrient found in many foods. The greatest amount is found in red meat and iron-fortified bread and cereal. In the body, iron becomes part of hemoglobin, a molecule in the blood that transports oxygen from the lungs to all body tissues.
Healthy people usually absorb about 10 percent of the iron contained in the food they eat to meet the body needs. People with hemochromatosis absorb more than the body needs. The body has no natural way to rid itself of excess iron, so extra iron is stored in body tissues, especially the liver, heart, and pancreas.Joint pain
is the most common complaint of people with hemochromatosis. Other common symptoms include fatigue
, lack of energy, abdominal pain, loss of sex drive, and heart problems
. Symptoms tend to occur in men between the ages of 30 and 50 and in women over age 50. However, many people have no symptoms when they are diagnosed.
If the disease is not detected early and treated, iron may accumulate in body tissues and may eventually lead to serious problems such as arthritis
; liver disease
, including an enlarged liver, cirrhosis, cancer and liver failure
; damage to the pancreas, possibly causing diabetes
; heart abnormalities, such as irregular heart rhythms or congestive heart failure; impotence; early menopause; abnormal pigmentation of the skin, making it look gray or bronze; thyroid deficiency and damage to the adrenal gland.
Hemochromatosis affects over 1 million Americans. With early diagnosis and proper treatment, affected persons may live a healthy life.
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