What to Know About Secondary Hemochromatosis

Iron accumulation in the body is known as hemochromatosis. When iron accumulates in your tissue as a result of an underlying medical disease rather than your genetic makeup, it is known as secondary hemochromatosis.

Hemochromatosis patients retain excessive amounts of iron in tissues like their:
  • liver
  • pancreas
  • pituitary gland
  • heart
  • skin
  • joints
Iron accumulation in these tissues can lead to concerns like cardiac trouble and liver damage. You can prevent these issues by getting an early diagnosis and taking appropriate care of your hemochromatosis.

Continue reading to find out more about the signs, causes, and available treatments of secondary hemochromatosis.

What is secondary hemochromatosis?

The accumulation of iron in your tissue as a result of an underlying medical disease is known as secondary hemochromatosis. Chronic blood transfusions used to treat illnesses that result in low red blood cell counts are the most common cause of it.

If iron accumulation in the body is not handled, it can harm organs including the pancreas and liver.

What’s the difference between primary and secondary hemochromatosis?

Iron accumulation is a hereditary hemochromatosis, also known as primary hemochromatosis, which is a genetic disorder that runs in families. Most frequently, a mutation in the HFE gene is the cause.

Although blood transfusions used to treat hereditary disorders like thalassemia can produce secondary hemochromatosis, the condition itself is not genetic.

What are the symptoms of secondary hemochromatosis?

An accumulation of iron in your tissues can cause symptoms that impact various body parts and harm your organs. Hemochromatosis symptoms can include:
  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • bronze or grey skin colour
  • loss of sex drive
  • abdominal pain
  • unintentional weight loss
  • joint pain

Primary vs. secondary hemochromatosis deposit locations

The primary cause of iron buildup in the liver and pancreas is primary hemochromatosis. When a person has secondary hemochromatosis, the accumulation typically occurs in:
  • liver cells
  • spleen
  • lymph nodes
  • bone marrow


What causes secondary hemochromatosis and who’s at risk?

Chronic blood transfusions are the most frequent cause of secondary hemochromatosis. Blood transfusions are frequently used by doctors to treat the following illnesses that result in low red blood cell counts:
  • thalassemia
  • sickle cell anemia
  • X-linked sideroblastic anaemia
  • pyruvate kinase deficiency
  • hereditary spherocytosis
Additional possible reasons for secondary hemochromatosis include:
  • increased intestinal absorption of iron as a result of inefficient red blood cell synthesis
  • iron poisoning from iron sources, such as supplements
underlying ailments like:
  • cirrhosis
  • porphyria cutanea tarda
  • advanced hepatitis B or hepatitis C
  • steatohepatitis
Rarely, secondary hemochromatosis can result from consuming too much iron in the diet. This could happen, for example, when heating or brewing alcohol in iron cookware.

Compared to primary hemochromatosis, secondary hemochromatosis is more prevalent in youngsters.

How is secondary hemochromatosis diagnosed?

Hemochromatosis is diagnosed via a blood test that looks at your levels of:
  • liver enzymes
  • blood cell counts
  • The blood protein ferritin is responsible for storing iron.
  • Transferrin is a blood iron-transporting protein.
A genetic test can also be recommended by your doctor to rule out primary hemochromatosis.

Other tests to look for organ damage might be administered to you. These examinations could consist of:
  • To look for liver damage, use hepatic magnetic resonance imaging or liver ultrasonography.
  • an echogram or electrocardiogram (ECG) to keep an eye on your cardiac health
  • examinations to look for joint damage
  • examinations to gauge your hormone levels and glandular activity
  • a bone density assessment using a DEXA scan

How is secondary hemochromatosis treated?

Iron chelation therapy is the primary treatment for secondary hemochromatosis. The process of iron chelation therapy is taking drugs that lower blood iron levels.

Managing the underlying aetiology of secondary hemochromatosis is another aspect of treatment. For instance, cutting back on how much iron supplement you take each day.

Phlebectomy, or the removal of blood, is the primary treatment for primary hemochromatosis.

What’s the outlook for someone with secondary hemochromatosis?

If secondary hemochromatosis is identified and treated early, the prognosis is frequently favourable. If untreated, it may cause irreversible harm to your internal organs.

A higher risk of liver injury is seen in individuals with primary hemochromatosis. Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the most prevalent form of liver cancer, affects about 30% of the population.

Those with secondary hemochromatosis have a lower incidence of HCC. The fifth case of HCC in the medical literature involving a person with secondary hemochromatosis was documented in a 2019 case study.

Other such issues that could arise are:
  • diabetes
  • arthritis
  • heart problems
  • other hormonal problems


The accumulation of iron in your body as a result of an underlying medical problem is known as secondary hemochromatosis. Frequent blood transfusions are the most frequent cause. Blood transfusions are commonly used by medical professionals to address diseases that result in low red blood cell levels.

The most typical course of treatment for secondary hemochromatosis involves using iron-removing drugs. You can prevent significant illness consequences by getting a diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible.


Can secondary hemochromatosis be cured?

There's currently no cure for haemochromatosis

Is secondary hemochromatosis common?

Compared to the secondary form of the disease, primary hemochromatosis is more prevalent.

What confirms hemochromatosis?

A liver biopsy

Does high iron go away?

Your body is unable to eliminate too much iron.

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