By Dr. Eric Lewis, ND
A maddening aspect of too much iron is that no two individuals experience hemochromatosis symptoms in exactly the same way.
In part, this explains why so many doctors fail to consider the signs of hemochromatosis when diagnosing a patient.
Iron overload can be tiring, painful, complex, confusing, and symptoms are often misunderstood. Symptoms of hemochromatosis range from mild to severe, and can occur daily or periodically.
Most Common Iron Overload Symptoms
The two most prominent hemochromatosis symptoms are:
- Pain – Iron overload hurts. Nearly all individuals will experience some degree of joint, muscle, or body pain. This was my first clue. In my experience, I began to have knee pain without any injuries or overuse. Both of my knees progressively became painful, stiff, and sore.
- Fatigue – Having too much iron is exhausting. Tiredness is definitely a characteristic of too much iron. Feeling less energy, being unable to enjoy or even complete daily activities, waking unrefreshed in the morning… nearly all of us experience these symptoms of hemochromatosis.
In the graphic below, the Haemochromatosis Society of the UK shows that pain and fatigue are far and away the most common iron overload symptoms.
One interesting topic that I have found in my research is that men and women may experience differences in iron overload symptoms:
Serious Signs, Symptoms and/or Complications
Well beyond the low energy and painful soreness, hemochromatosis carries significant risk for long term health consequences. Iron absorption and accumulation builds over a lifetime, and can lead to the following:
- Organ Damage- Iron overload can cause damage to internal organs, especially of the liver, pancreas, endocrine glands, cardiovascular system, and skin
- Liver Cirrhosis and Liver Cancer- The liver is the organ most at risk of damage from too much iron, with cirrhosis and cancer risk increasing in iron overload.
- Insulin Resistance and Diabetes- If the pancreas stores excess iron, an individual is at an increased risk of developing insulin resistance and, ultimately, diabetes.
- Bronze Diabetes- Bronze diabetes is a condition in which a person’s skin becomes bronzed from iron accumulation while they develop diabetes. Fortunately bronze diabetes is less common with earlier diagnosis.
- Hypogonadism, Low Libido- When iron overload affects a man’s testes, he may experience a loss of testosterone along with a diminished libido.
- Arthritis- Joint damage due to too much iron is most commonly seen in the knees, hands, and wrists
Unchecked, severe cases of iron overload can and will progress through some, or all, of these serious signs, symptoms, and complications. Hemochromatosis can shorten life expectancy. It can be fatal.
Fortunately, with early detection and treatment, these serious symptoms of hemochromatosis may be entirely preventable.
Learn about Hemochromatosis Treatment Options.
Less Serious Hemochromatosis Symptoms
Hemochromatosis symptoms can also produce some less serious, but fairly undesirable consequences.
Patients, personal stories, and case studies also provide great insight to how this disease expresses itself symptomatically. Here are some other commonly reported symptoms of hemochromatosis:
- Restlessness, Difficulty Concentrating or Focusing
- Increased Sensitivity to Heat or Cold
- Sweating, Shallow Breathing, or Shortness of Breath
- Frequent Colds or Infections
- Inability to Relax Muscles, Back Pain
- Headache, Dizziness
- Skin conditions- including rash and itching
- Digestive Disturbances- Nausea, abdominal pain, constipation or diarrhea may also be attributable to iron overload
Insomnia and hair loss are two other frequently reported symptoms. Believe me, I know all about those two symptoms of hemochromatosis. Sigh…
Emotional and Psychological Symptoms and Challenges
Hemochromatosis can have a significant impact on our emotional and mental states. The following are some of the ways iron overload can affect our mental well being:
- Inability to Relax (In General)
- Desire for Solitude
- Irritability and Anger
- Changeable Moods
Textbooks will often focus on the more physical signs and symptoms of hemochromatosis, such as pain, fatigue, arthritis, diabetes, and liver function. While these symptoms of too much iron are extremely common, I hear of the emotional impact of hemochromatosis as well. Many people have shared with me their stories of how iron overload has affected them. Quite often, they tell me how mentally and emotionally they have been taxed. It is definitely quite a burden to bear.
Whether your personal symptoms of hemochromatosis are physical, mental, emotional, or a combination, I always like to remind my readers that much can be done for iron overload and furthermore:
We’re all in this together.