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What conditions cause too much iron in the blood?

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Quick Answer

A hereditary disease called hemochromatosis is the main condition that causes too much iron in the blood, according to Mayo Clinic. The disease is more common among people of European ancestry, and it often affects men more severely than women.

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Hemochromatosis is caused by a genetic mutation that causes the body to absorb too much iron from food, according to Mayo Clinic. Iron overload is dangerous because the excess iron is stored in the organs, especially the heart, liver and pancreas. The iron can build up over many years, and if untreated, it can be fatal.

Symptoms of too much iron in the blood include joint pain, weakness and fatigue, Mayo Clinic explains. Diagnosis can be difficult because the symptoms are similar to those of many other diseases. Symptoms of excess iron usually appear in midlife.

A doctor can detect iron overload with a simple blood test, notes Mayo Clinic. It is easily treated by removing blood, using a safe and simple procedure called a phlebotomy, which uses the same process used in donating blood. It can be done at any blood clinic. The frequency depends on the amount of iron in the blood. Most patients get the procedure once or twice a week for a year or so, and then less frequently as the iron returns to lower levels.

People with the hemochromatosis gene should avoid eating shellfish, taking iron supplements or consuming alcohol, advises Mayo Clinic. Many Americans carry the faulty hemochromatosis gene but do not develop serious symptoms. With early diagnosis and treatment, people with hemochromatosis lead healthy, active lives.

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