An inherited disease in which too much dietary iron is absorbed, The excess iron slowly accumulates in the liver, heart, pancreas, testes and other organs. Men are more often affected than women because women naturally lose iron in menstrual blood.
Symptoms and complications
Haemochromatosis hardly ever causes problems until middle age. A reduction in the size of the testes and loss of sex drive are usually the initial signs. Excess iron over a period of time creates enlargement of the liver and cirrhosis (chronic liver damage) and can lead to diabetes mellitus, bronze skin colouration (caused by the iron pigment deposition in the skin), cardiac arrhythmia, and eventually liver cancer and liver failure.
Diagnosis relies on blood tests and a liver biopsy (removal of a small sample of tissue for analysis). Treatment is by venesection (withdrawal of blood from a vein). In the beginning the procedure is carried out weekly. After iron levels have returned to normal, the process of venesection is then required less often.