The University of Chicago Medicine physicians collaborate closely and work as a team to diagnose and treat hemochromatosis. Treatment plans for hemochromatosis depend on the cause, extent of organs involved and the overall health of the patient. Your treatment plan will be developed by multiple specialists and designed to fit your specific needs.

What is Hemochromatosis?

Patients with hemochromatosis have too much iron in their body, which can end up damaging vital organs like the heart, liver or pancreas. If you have hereditary or genetic hemochromatosis, your body absorbs too much iron in the foods you eat. Secondary hemochromatosis is caused by another health condition, such as frequent blood transfusions or early destruction of red blood cells (hemolysis). Symptoms will depend on where the iron builds up in your body; they range from joint damage to grey or bronze-hued skin, diabetes, low libido, liver failure, liver cancer or heart problems.

Treating Hemochromatosis

Treating hemochromatosis depends on the cause and your medical history. While hereditary or genetic hemochromatosis cannot be prevented or cured, the damage it causes can be stopped if the surplus iron is removed early enough from your body. Your doctor may recommend you have a regular phlebotomy — which is similar to giving blood — or chelation therapy, which involves medication that can trap the iron so it can be eliminated from the body.

Frequently Asked Questions about Hemochromatosis

Although some people with hemochromatosis have no symptoms, most eventually do develop them. They include:

  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Joint pain
  • Stomach pain
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of sexual desire
  • Skin that takes on a bronze or grey hue

Hereditary or genetic hemochromatosis is caused by an inherited gene mutation that leads to increased iron absorption in the gut.

Secondary hemochromatosis can be caused by an accumulation of iron from blood transfusions, kidney dialysis, iron pills, certain types of anemia and cirrhosis (particularly when caused by alcohol).

In order to determine whether you have hemochromatosis, your doctor will review your family history and do a physical exam. You may undergo:

  • A blood test to see how much iron is in your blood
  • An MRI or liver biopsy to confirm the presence of iron and look for damage in your liver
  • A blood test or cheek swabbing to determine whether you have the gene mutations that causes hereditary or genetic hemochromatosis

For patients with hereditary or genetic hemochromatosis, your doctor may recommend you have:

Regular phlebotomies, which involve removing the iron from the body by drawing blood. You may need a phlebotomy twice a week to once every few months, depending on the amount of iron in your body.

Chelation therapy, which involves taking a pill at home or receiving an injection at the doctor’s office. The medicine then binds to the iron in your body and is passed in your urine.

Why Choose UChicago Medicine for Liver Disease Care

Our internationally renowned specialists have extensive expertise in treating common and complex liver diseases.

Dr. Andrew Aronsohn having a conversation with another UChicago Medicine doctor
Hepatologist Helen Te, MD, with a liver patient
Portrait of Dr. Michael Charlton, a world-renowned liver disease specialist
Clinical liver disease researcher at UChicago Medicine
Dr. John Fung in liver transplant surgery
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