Overview of hemochromatosis

West J Med. 1990 Sep;153(3):296-308.


Hemochromatosis is an autosomal recessive genetic disorder that occurs with high prevalence in populations of European origin. The gene that is abnormal in hemochromatosis is found on the short arm of chromosome 6 in close proximity (approximately 1 centimorgan) to HLA-A, but the product coded for by that gene is unknown. The pathogenetic mechanism in hemochromatosis is that of continued, excessive absorption of dietary iron with loss of normal control mechanisms, leading to a gradual but vast expansion of storage iron as ferritin and especially as hemosiderin. Through mechanisms that probably include peroxidation of lipid membranes, the excess iron injures hepatocytes, islet B cells, gonadotropes in the anterior pituitary, myocardium, synovial cells, and chondrocytes, and probably other cells and tissues as well. Most patients with hemochromatosis remain undiagnosed throughout life. Removal of the excess iron by phlebotomy will prevent all of the complications of hemochromatosis when begun early and will significantly improve survival in virtually all patients. It is important, therefore, that the diagnosis of hemochromatosis be considered much more frequently in clinical medicine in order that this effective therapy be utilized.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Hemochromatosis* / diagnosis
  • Hemochromatosis* / metabolism
  • Hemochromatosis* / pathology
  • Humans
  • Male