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Haemochromotosis - Part 1

Posted by Eamonn Brady on

Eamonn Brady is a pharmacist and the owner of Whelehans Pharmacy, Pearse St, Mullingar. If you have any health questions e-mail them to

Haemochromatosis is a hereditary condition caused by the body’s iron levels building up excessively. It can also be referred to as “iron overload disorder”. Haemochromatosis is called the “Celtic Curse” as it is more common in Ireland than any other country in the world. Approximately one in 83 people in Ireland are affected whereas frequency in other northern European countries varies from one in 200 to one in 400.


Haemochromatosis is a hereditary condition due to a faulty gene called HFE meaning too much iron is absorbed from our diet. Without the condition, the body only takes in as much as is needed; however haemochromatosis causes more iron to be absorbed than is needed thus causing excess iron to build up in the body eventually leading to symptoms and organ damage including liver and heart damage.


Living with haemochromatosis.

A strict low iron diet is not necessary but ways to reduce iron levels include reducing red meat intake (eg. beef, lamb). It is probably best to avoid animal organ meat (eg. liver, kidney and heart) altogether as it is very high in iron. While vegetables, beans and cereals also contain iron, it is more rapidly absorbed from meat. Avoid foods fortified with iron (for example some breakfast cereals are fortified in iron). Do not take iron supplements. Your intake of vitamin C should be reduced as vitamin C increases iron absorption. Reduce alcohol intake especially with meals as alcohol increases iron absorption and can cause further damage to the liver. A cup of tea or milk (or other dairy products) with meals help reduce iron absorption.



For many with haemochromatosis, the condition is symptomless and the condition is only discovered during a general blood test or after being called for screening because a blood relative (eg. parent, brother, sister) has been diagnosed. The first symptoms of haemochromatosis can include excessive fatigue and tiredness, joint pain, weakness, erectile dysfunction in men and irregular or lack of periods in women


If the condition is not treated further symptoms can appear including subtle skin colour change (a more bronzed or tanned colour); enlarged liver (which can be sore when the upper abdominal area [area where liver is] is touched); jaundice (yellowing of eyes and skin); diabetes (initial symptoms are excessive thirst and loss of weight); arthritis (including severe joint pain and stiffness especially finger joints); damage to heart muscles (which leads to chest pain, problems breathing and swelling of hands and feet); loss of sex drive (libido) and neurological or psychiatric symptoms (that can occur in later stage of haemochromatosis include memory problems, mood swings, irritability and depression)


To be continued….next week I will discuss diagnosis and treatment of haemochromatosis.


This article is shortened to fit within Newspaper space limits. More detailed information and leaflets is available in Whelehans


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