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Complications - Haemochromatosis

If haemochromatosis is not diagnosed and treated early, the iron buildup in your body can cause serious problems.

Liver damage

The liver can be very sensitive to the effects of iron. Many people with haemochromatosis have some liver damage.

If you have a lot of scarring on your liver (cirrhosis), it can cause:

  • tiredness and weakness
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • nausea (feeling sick)
  • very itchy skin
  • tenderness or pain around the liver
  • yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice)

Cirrhosis also increases your risk of getting liver cancer.

Surgery and medicine can help ease symptoms of cirrhosis. But a liver transplant is the only way to cure it.


You can get diabetes if you have haemochromatosis and the iron overload has affected your pancreas.

If the pancreas is damaged, it may not produce enough insulin. This can lead to an increase in the level of glucose in your blood.

Symptoms of diabetes include:

  • needing to pee more often than usual, particularly at night
  • feeling very thirsty
  • feeling very tired

Lifestyle changes such as healthy eating and regular exercise can help. Some people may need to take medicine to control their blood sugar level.

Managing diabetes


You can get arthritis if you have advanced haemochromatosis.

Your joints maybe:

  • painful
  • stiff
  • swollen (inflamed)

You may be able to ease the symptoms with painkillers, anti-inflammatories and steroid medicine.

If there is a lot of damage, you may need to have surgery to replace your joint.

Heart problems

If too much iron builds up in your heart, it can damage your heart muscles. This can lead to heart failure.

Symptoms of heart failure include:

  • shortness of breath
  • extreme tiredness and weakness
  • swelling in your legs, ankles and feet

Heart failure can usually be treated with medicine.

Page last reviewed: 8 August 2023
Next review due: 8 August 2026

This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.