(Hereditary Hemochromatosis [HH]; Primary Hemochromatosis; Familial Hemochromatosis; Secondary Hemochromatosis)

How to Say It: He-moe-chrome-uh-toe-sis


Hemochromatosis is a disorder where iron builds up in the body. Early treatment can improve outcomes.

There are two types:

  • Hereditary (HH)
  • Secondary

The Liver

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Hereditary hemochromatosis is caused by a faulty gene that is passed from parents to children.

The secondary type may be caused by:

  • Blood transfusions
  • High iron intake

Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of HH are:

  • Having other family members with this health problem
  • Western or Northern European ancestry

Things that may raise the risk of the secondary type are:


Most people do not have symptoms. Those who do may have:

  • Joint pain
  • Tiredness or weakness
  • Belly pain
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Problems maintaining an erection (in men)


The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done.

Blood tests will be done to check iron levels. This is enough to make the diagnosis. More tests may be done to look for a cause.


The goal of treatment is to lower iron levels. Choices are:

  • Regularly removing excess iron from the blood
  • Medicines to remove excess iron from the blood
  • Dietary changes, such as:
    • Not eating high iron foods or taking iron supplements
    • Not taking vitamin C supplements, which can increase the amount of iron the body absorbs
  • Avoiding alcohol


HH cannot be prevented. The secondary type may be prevented. It depends on the cause.


American Hemochromatosis Society
American Society of Hematology


Canadian Liver Foundation


Hemochromatosis. American Liver Foundation website. Available at: https://liverfoundation.org/for-patients/about-the-liver/diseases-of-the-liver/hemochromatosis. Accessed Jamuary 12, 2021.
Hemochromatosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/hemochromatosis. Accessed January 12, 2021.
Hemochromatosis. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed January 12, 2021.
Pilling L, Tamosauskaite J. Common conditions associated with hereditary haemochromatosis genetic variants: cohort study in UK Biobank BMJ 2019; 364.
Last reviewed February 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD
Last Updated: 1/12/2021

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