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  • Amy Scholten, MPH
Publication Type:



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


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

There are two types:

  • Hereditary (HH)
  • Secondary


Hereditary hemochromatosis is caused by a gene problem 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 of hemochromatosis. Those who do may have:

  • Joint pain
  • Tiredness or weakness
  • Belly pain
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Problems maintaining an erection of the penis
Sometimes people do not have symptoms, but routine blood work shows there is a problem. Test results that could be abnormal include:
  • Blood test of the liver
  • Blood glucose levels
  • Thyroid tests
  • Iron tests


The doctor will ask about 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. Ways to treat hemochromatosis are:

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


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





  • Hemochromatosis. American Liver Foundation website. Available at: https://liverfoundation.org/liver-diseases/rare-disease/hemochromatosis.
  • Hemochromatosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/hemochromatosis.
  • Hemochromatosis. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/liver-disease/hemochromatosis.
  • Pilling, L., Tamosauskaite, J. Common conditions associated with hereditary haemochromatosis genetic variants: cohort study in UK Biobank. BMJ, 2019; 364.


  • Marcin Chwistek, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.