Early symptoms of iron overload such as fatigue (in 70%), joint pain (40%) and abdominal pain (40%) are non-specific and are commonly not recognised as associated with Haemochromatosis. Moreover, mildly abnormal liver function tests are commonly ascribed to excessive alcohol use. A genetic test, together with iron status, can provide a definitive diagnosis of HH without the necessity of an invasive liver biopsy.
SYMPTOMS THAT CAN BE PRESENT INCLUDE
Chronic fatigue, weakness, lethargy
Arthritis – all joints but particularly between the knuckles of the 1st & 2nd finger (iron fist); knees and hips – often misdiagnosed as rheumatoid arthritis
Liver disorders – cirrhosis and enlarged liver
Late-onset diabetes (due to damage to the pancreas)
Sexual disorders – impotence, loss of libido, testicular atrophy, infertility
Menstrual irregularities (particularly amenorrhea)
Abdominal pain (particularly upper right-quadrant)
Neurological disorders – mood swings, depression, impaired memory
Cardiomyopathy (disease of heart muscle) – irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), heart failure
Loss of body hair
Cancer (it thrives on iron)
Bronzing/ greying of the skin (permanent tan)
Frequent (unexplained) diarrhoea
Frequent colds/flu, weakened immune system
HH is also frequently misdiagnosed as chronic hepatitis, gall bladder and thyroid problems, gout, rheumatoid arthritis, polycythaemia and iron deficiency.
As some sufferers exhibit pronounced mood swings and other personality changes such as severe depression, anger, confusion or diminished memory, they can be incorrectly treated for mental illness. In some cases Alzheimer’s has been suspected.