Hemochromatosis: pathophysiology, evaluation, and management of hepatic iron overload with a focus on MRI

Expert Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2018 Aug;12(8):767-778. doi: 10.1080/17474124.2018.1496016. Epub 2018 Jul 19.


Hereditary hemochromatosis (HH) is an autosomal recessive disorder that occurs in approximately 1 in 200-250 individuals. Mutations in the HFE gene lead to excess iron absorption. Excess iron in the form of non-transferrin-bound iron (NTBI) causes injury and is readily uptaken by cardiomyocytes, pancreatic islet cells, and hepatocytes. Symptoms greatly vary among patients and include fatigue, abdominal pain, arthralgias, impotence, decreased libido, diabetes, and heart failure. Untreated hemochromatosis can lead to chronic liver disease, fibrosis, cirrhosis, and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Many invasive and noninvasive diagnostic tests are available to aid in diagnosis and treatment. MRI has emerged as the reference standard imaging modality for the detection and quantification of hepatic iron deposition, as ultrasound (US) is unable to detect iron overload and computed tomography (CT) findings are nonspecific and influenced by multiple confounding variables. If caught and treated early, HH disease progression can significantly be altered. Area covered: The data on Hemochromatosis, iron overload, and MRI were gathered by searching PubMed. Expert commentary: MRI is a great tool for diagnosis and management of iron overload. It is safe, effective, and a standard protocol should be included in diagnostic algorithms of future treatment guidelines.

Keywords: HFE; Hemochromatosis; Iron Overload; Liver; Liver Disease; MRI; transient elastography.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Hemochromatosis / diagnosis*
  • Hemochromatosis / etiology
  • Hemochromatosis / physiopathology
  • Hemochromatosis / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Iron / metabolism
  • Iron Overload / diagnosis
  • Iron Overload / therapy
  • Liver / diagnostic imaging*
  • Liver / physiopathology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods


  • Iron