Iron storage disease is a genetic (inherited) condition that is marked by too much iron accumulating in your body. It is one of the most common genetic diseases in the United States.
Iron is a mineral that is found in many foods. Your body normally absorbs about 10 percent of the iron in the food that you eat. With iron storage disease, you absorb more iron than you require. Your body does not have any natural way to get rid of this excess iron. It becomes stored in your body tissues. This is especially true of your liver, heart and pancreas. This excess iron can result in damage to your organs. Iron storage disease may cause your organs to fail if you do not get treatment for it.
There are different types of iron storage disease. Primary iron storage disease is an inherited disease. It is also known as hereditary iron storage disease. Secondary iron storage disease results from an underlying condition.
Juvenile iron storage disease and neonatal iron storage disease are two additional types of the disease. Juvenile iron storage disease results in severe iron overload and liver and heart disease in adolescents and young adults between the ages of 15 and 30. The neonatal form of the disease causes rapid iron buildup in a baby’s liver that can lead to death.
Some people with hereditary (primary) iron storage disease never have any signs or symptoms. Other people have a wide range of signs and symptoms. These signs and symptoms may be different for women and men and can vary greatly from person to person.
The early signs and symptoms of iron storage disease are like those of other common conditions. Some of these include:
- Low thyroid function (hypothyroidism)
- Lack of normal menstruation in women (amenorrhea)
- Impotence or loss of libido (sex drive)
- Stiffness in your joints
- High blood sugar levels
- Arthritis, especially in your hands
- Chronic fatigue
- Abdominal pain
- Abnormal liver function tests, even though no signs are present.
Later stages of iron storage disease may result in serious conditions. Some of these include:
- Liver failure
- Congestive heart failure
- Liver cancer
- Cirrhosis, which is irreversible scarring of your liver
- Cardiac arrhythmia
- Discolored skin that is gray or bronze in appearance