If haemochromatosis is not diagnosed and treated early on, iron can build up in the body and cause serious problems.
The liver can be very sensitive to the effects of iron, and many people with haemochromatosis will have some degree of liver damage.
This often will not cause any obvious symptoms at first, but can be picked up during tests for haemochromatosis.
If significant scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) occurs, you may experience:
- tiredness and weakness
- loss of appetite
- weight loss
- feeling sick
- very itchy skin
- tenderness or pain around the liver
- yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice)
Cirrhosis also increases your risk of developing liver cancer.
Surgery and medicine can help relieve symptoms of cirrhosis, but the only way to achieve a complete cure is to have a liver transplant.
Diabetes is a condition in which a person's blood sugar level becomes too high. It can happen in people with haemochromatosis if high levels of iron damage the pancreas.
The pancreas is an organ that produces insulin. Insulin is a hormone that's used to change sugar (glucose) from your diet into energy.
If the pancreas is damaged, it may not produce enough insulin, which can lead to an increase in the level of sugar in the blood.
Symptoms can include:
- needing to pee more often than usual, particularly at night
- feeling very thirsty
- feeling very tired
Lifestyle changes such as eating healthily and exercising regularly can help, although some people need to take medicine to control their blood sugar level.
In severe and advanced cases of haemochromatosis, the high levels of iron can damage the joints. This is known as arthritis.
The main symptoms of arthritis are:
- joint pain, often finger joints
- stiff joints
- swelling (inflammation) in the joints
It may be possible to relieve the symptoms with hand exercises, painkillers and steroid medicine.
If excess iron builds up in the heart, it can damage the muscles of the heart (cardiomyopathy).
This can lead to heart failure, which is where the heart has become so damaged it struggles to pump blood around the body properly.
Symptoms of heart failure include:
Heart failure can usually be treated with medicine.
Read more about how heart failure is treated.
Page last reviewed: 29 March 2023
Next review due: 29 March 2026