Iron overload

Iron is essential for the body to make haemoglobin (Hb), a pigment that makes red blood cells red and carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body

Low iron levels (iron deficiency) in the body can cause low haemoglobin levels. Conversely, too much iron in the body can lead to iron overload (haemochromatosis) and cause damage in adults. 

Iron deficiency is a much more common problem than iron overload. 

Iron overload (haemochromatosis) is an inherited condition in which the affected person is at risk of absorbing too much iron from their food. The excess iron in your body builds up in various parts and causes damage in adults.

Symptoms of treatment overload

Early iron overload might have no symptoms, even though organ damage is occurring.

Organs that may be damaged by overload include the:

  • liver
  • heart
  • pancreas
  • joints
  • sex organs.

Testing for iron overload

The genetic condition of haemochromatosis and its effects on your body can be detected by a blood test. 

Talk to your general practitioner to arrange for the necessary tests.

Treating iron overload

Treatment involves the removal of blood by venesection (similar to donating blood). Up to 500ml of blood is removed at regular intervals until the iron levels in the blood return to within the normal range. Once normal levels are re-established, venesections are used less frequently to maintain those levels throughout the patient’s lifetime.

Talk to your doctor about where it is most appropriate for you to have your venesections done.

Further information

Further information on iron overload can be found on the Haemochromatosis Australia website.