Secondary Hemochromatosis

Secondary hemochromatosis is caused by excessive iron in the diet or from multiple blood transfusions.

Where does it come from?

The usual cause of secondary hemochromatosis is blood transfusions given for severe types of anemia, such as sickle cell disease or thalassemias. In addition, people with bone marrow failure and severe anemia may require regular blood transfusions given over months or years. Red blood cells are a rich source of iron, and red blood cells given by transfusions can lead to a buildup of iron to high levels. The body does not have a good way to get rid of iron.

Iron overload in the liver also occurs in persons with severe liver disease such as cirrhosis due to alcoholic liver disease or advanced forms of chronic hepatitis B or C. In these situations, the level of iron is high enough to worsen the underlying liver disease.

Iron overload from excess iron in the diet is very rare but can be caused by cooking and brewing alcohol in crude iron pots or skillets. Drinking alcohol in this situation leads to an increase in the absorption of iron and can cause serious iron overload in the liver.

More than 800,000 patients in Europe and the US

Key symptoms

  • Joint pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Diabetes
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Impotence
  • Heart failure
  • Liver failure
  • Bronze or gray skin color
  • Memory fog


  • 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.
  • Diabetes. 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).
  • 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.