Haemochromatosis is an inherited condition where iron levels in the body slowly build up over many years.

This build-up of iron, known as iron overload, can cause unpleasant symptoms. If it is not treated, this can damage parts of the body such as the liver, joints, pancreas and heart.

Haemochromatosis most often affects people of white northern European background and is particularly common in countries where lots of people have a Celtic background, such as Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Symptoms of haemochromatosis

Symptoms of haemochromatosis usually start between the ages of 30 and 60.

Common symptoms include:

Read more about symptoms of haemochromatosis

When to see a GP

See a GP if you have:

Talk to the GP about whether you should have blood tests to check for haemochromatosis.

Read more about tests for haemochromatosis

Treatments for haemochromatosis

There's currently no cure for haemochromatosis, but there are treatments that can reduce the amount of iron in the body and reduce the risk of damage.

There are 2 main treatments.

You do not need to make any big changes to your diet to control your iron levels if you're having treatment, but you'll usually be advised to avoid:

Read more about how haemochromatosis is treated

Causes of haemochromatosis

Haemochromatosis is caused by a faulty gene that affects how the body absorbs iron from your diet.

You're at risk of developing the condition if both of your parents have this faulty gene and you inherit 1 copy from each of them.

You will not get haemochromatosis if you only inherit 1 copy of the faulty gene but there's a chance you could pass the faulty gene on to any children you have.

If you do inherit 2 copies, you will not necessarily get haemochromatosis. Only a small number of people with 2 copies of this faulty gene will ever develop the condition. It's not known exactly why this is.

Read more about the causes of haemochromatosis

Complications of haemochromatosis

If the condition is diagnosed and treated early on, haemochromatosis does not affect life expectancy and is unlikely to result in serious problems.

But if it's not found until it's more advanced, the high iron levels can damage parts of the body.

This can lead to potentially serious complications, such as:

Read more about complications of haemochromatosis

Further support

Haemochromatosis UK is a patient-run UK charity that provides information and support to people living with haemochromatosis.

Page last reviewed: 29 March 2023
Next review due: 29 March 2026