Untreated, hereditary hemochromatosis can lead to a number of complications, especially in your joints and in organs where excess iron tends to be stored — your liver, pancreas and heart. Complications can include:
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- Liver problems. Cirrhosis — permanent scarring of the liver — is just one of the problems that may occur. Cirrhosis increases your risk of liver cancer and other life-threatening complications.
- Pancreas problems. Damage to the pancreas can lead to diabetes.
- Heart problems. Excess iron in your heart affects the heart's ability to circulate enough blood for your body's needs. This is called congestive heart failure. Hemochromatosis can also cause abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias). Arrhythmias can cause heart palpitations, chest pain and lightheadedness.
- Reproductive problems. Excess iron can lead to erectile dysfunction (impotence), and loss of sex drive in men and absence of the menstrual cycle in women.
- Skin color changes. Deposits of iron in skin cells can make your skin appear bronze or gray in color.
- AskMayoExpert. Hereditary hemochromatosis. Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2012.
- Bacon BR, et al. Diagnosis and management of hemochromatosis: 2011 Practice Guideline by the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases. Hepatology. 2011;54:328.
- What is hemochromatosis? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hemo/. Accessed Nov. 7, 2012.
- Eng KG, et al. Natural history and management of HFE-Hemochromatosis. Seminars in Liver Disease. 2011;31:293.
- Hemochromatosis. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/hemochromatosis/index.htm. Accessed Nov. 12, 2012.
- Poterucha JJ (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Nov. 29, 2012.
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