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Hemochromatosis

  • Definition

    Hemochromatosis is a disorder that results in too much iron being absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract.


    Causes, incidence, and risk factors

    Hemochromatosis occurs when too much iron builds up in the body.

    There are two forms of hemochromatosis: primary and secondary.

    Primary hemochromatosis is usually caused by a specific genetic problem that causes too much iron to be absorbed. When people with this condition have too much iron in their diet, the extra iron is absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract and builds up in the body tissues, particularly the liver. The result is liver swelling. Primary hemochromatosis is the most common genetic disorder in the United States, affecting an estimated 1 of every 200 to 300 Americans.

    Secondary or acquired hemochromatosis can be caused by diseases such as thalassemia or sideroblastic anemia, especially if the person has received a large number of blood transfusions. Occasionally, it may be seen with hemolytic anemia, chronic alcoholism, and other conditions.

    Hemochromatosis affects more men than women. It is particularly common in Caucasians of western European descent. Symptoms are often seen in men between the ages of 30 and 50 and in women over 50, although some people may develop problems by age 20. You have a higher risk of hemochromatosis if someone else in your family has or had the condition.