The University of Chicago Medicine physicians collaborate closely and work as a team to diagnose and treat hemochromatosis. Treatment plans for hemochromatosis depend on the cause, extent of organs involved and the overall health of the patient. Your treatment plan will be developed by multiple specialists and designed to fit your specific needs.
What is Hemochromatosis?
Patients with hemochromatosis have too much iron in their body, which can end up damaging vital organs like the heart, liver or pancreas. If you have hereditary or genetic hemochromatosis, your body absorbs too much iron in the foods you eat. Secondary hemochromatosis is caused by another health condition, such as frequent blood transfusions or early destruction of red blood cells (hemolysis). Symptoms will depend on where the iron builds up in your body; they range from joint damage to grey or bronze-hued skin, diabetes, low libido, liver failure, liver cancer or heart problems.
Treating hemochromatosis depends on the cause and your medical history. While hereditary or genetic hemochromatosis cannot be prevented or cured, the damage it causes can be stopped if the surplus iron is removed early enough from your body. Your doctor may recommend you have a regular phlebotomy — which is similar to giving blood — or chelation therapy, which involves medication that can trap the iron so it can be eliminated from the body.
Frequently Asked Questions about Hemochromatosis
Although some people with hemochromatosis have no symptoms, most eventually do develop them. They include:
- Fatigue and weakness
- Joint pain
- Stomach pain
- Weight loss
- Loss of sexual desire
- Skin that takes on a bronze or grey hue
Hereditary or genetic hemochromatosis is caused by an inherited gene mutation that leads to increased iron absorption in the gut.
In order to determine whether you have hemochromatosis, your doctor will review your family history and do a physical exam. You may undergo:
- A blood test to see how much iron is in your blood
- An MRI or liver biopsy to confirm the presence of iron and look for damage in your liver
- A blood test or cheek swabbing to determine whether you have the gene mutations that causes hereditary or genetic hemochromatosis
For patients with hereditary or genetic hemochromatosis, your doctor may recommend you have:
Regular phlebotomies, which involve removing the iron from the body by drawing blood. You may need a phlebotomy twice a week to once every few months, depending on the amount of iron in your body.
Chelation therapy, which involves taking a pill at home or receiving an injection at the doctor’s office. The medicine then binds to the iron in your body and is passed in your urine.
Why Choose UChicago Medicine for Liver Disease Care
Our internationally renowned specialists have extensive expertise in treating common and complex liver diseases.
Coordinated, Collaborative Care
Some people with liver disease have related medical problems in other areas, such as diabetes, kidney disease or heart disease. At UChicago Medicine, all of our highly specialized physicians work under the same roof and are in continual communication with one another. Whether you need care from an endocrinologist, nephrologist, cardiologist, transplant surgeon or any other specialist, you can be assured that these specialists will collaborate on your behalf.
Personalized Approach to Care
Individually tailored treatment, personalized support and ongoing education help patients through the lengthy and often challenging journey of living with liver disease. Nurse specialists, physician assistants, social workers, registered dietitians and other members of our team have important roles supporting each patient and their family throughout treatment.
A Tradition of Excellence
Today’s UChicago Medicine physicians, researchers and members of our hepatology team build on more than eight decades of experience, discoveries and treatment innovations related to liver disease. Our team oversees many clinical trials of new therapies for liver disease.
Research & Clinical Trials
Research leads to better ways to treat, diagnose and even prevent liver disease. Members of our team are actively involved in research on two fronts: in the lab (basic research) and with patients (clinical research).
In the lab, scientists are focusing on hepatitis and other liver diseases at the cellular level. Deeper understanding about how liver disease develops and progresses can lead to more effective treatments.
Clinical research often has a more timely impact on treating liver disease. As one of the nation’s leading academic hospitals, UChicago Medicine offers many clinical trials for promising new therapies. Often, these clinical trials are open to individuals whose disease has relapsed or resisted standard treatments.
Liver Transplant Institute
The University of Chicago Medicine is one of the most experienced centers for liver transplantation. Our liver transplant program was established in 1984 — the first in the Midwest and only the fourth liver transplant program in the U.S. at that time. Over the decades, transplant surgeons here have made innovations that have revolutionized liver transplantation, particularly in the area of living-donor transplant.
Ranked Among the Nation's Best
The University of Chicago Medicine has one of the premier gastroenterology and hepatology programs in the United States. Year after year, our GI program is ranked among the nation’s best for treating digestive system disorders.