Symptoms of genetic haemochromatosis can include the following:
- Arthritis; may affect any joint but particularly common in the knuckle and first joint of the first two fingers (the bronze fist, illustrated above). If arthritis is found only in the first two finger joints this is highly suggestive of GH
- Chronic fatigue, weakness, lethargy
- Abdominal pain; sometimes in the stomach region or the upper right hand side, sometimes diffuse
- Neurological/psychiatric disorders; impaired memory, mood swings, irritability, depression
- Sexual disorders; loss of sex drive, impotence in men
- Absent or scanty menstrual periods and early menopause in women
- Bronzing of the skin, or a permanent tan, or grey tone
- Cardiomyopathy; disease of the heart muscle
- Diabetes (late onset type)
- Liver disorders; abnormal liver function, enlarged liver, cirrhosis, liver cancer
- Decrease in body hair
Most of these symptoms are found in other disorders. For example chronic fatigue may be ascribed to after-effects of a viral infection or to psychological causes, and abdominal pain to irritable bowel syndrome. Similarly liver disorders may be put down to excessive alcohol intake, even in someone who is only a moderate drinker. However, if some of the symptoms listed above are present, GH should be considered as a diagnosis.
Most individuals who have GH will, in due course, develop at least one or two of the above symptoms, although possibly only in a very mild form. There may be a long phase of the condition where there are no symptoms.
Fatigue … liver problems … joint problems is a ‘typical’ order of symptoms developing (though this does vary of course). Joints complaints are typical of the elderly and sexual problems typical of younger people at diagnosis.
The need for treatment to remove excess iron does not depend upon the presence of clinical symptoms. The risk of developing a serious complaint such as cirrhosis is much too great to be overlooked.
Information provided by The Haemochromatosis Society is not a substitute for professional care and should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease. If you have, or suspect you may have, a health problem you should consult your doctor. Whilst informative, it is dangerous to rely on the internet to manage your health or that of your family.