Haemochromatosis and Haemochromatotic Arthritis

Haemochromatosis is a condition that is caused by a build up of iron in the body. Iron is an important mineral that our body absorbs from food. But, people with heamochromatosis absorb too much iron which can cause damage to organs like our liver, heart, and our bones and joints.  

Early haemochromatosis often has no symptoms. But as iron slowly builds up in the body over many years, symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Abdominal pain
  • Symptoms of diabetes
  • Joint pain and possibly joint swelling. This occurs most commonly in the joints of the fingers and hands. Wrists, elbows, hips, knees and joints in the feet can also be affected. 

Over time, untreated iron overload can cause more serious complications and symptoms. One of these includes joint damage and arthritis

How is haemochromatosis diagnosed?

Haemochromatosis is usually diagnosed by simple blood tests called complete iron studies. It may also be confirmed with a blood test for the faulty HFE gene. This gene is responsible for controlling the amount of iron the body absorbs. 

How can haemochromatosis be treated?

At present there is no cure for haemochromatosis or the arthritis caused by iron overload.  Early diagnosis and treatment aims to reduce iron levels to a safe level and prevent long term complications. Treatment for haemochromatosis usually involves removal of blood at regular intervals until iron levels are at a safe level.

See your doctor for treatment and advice

If a family member has been diagnosed with haemochromatosis, ask your doctor whether you should have a genetic test for this disease. The earlier it is diagnosed, the greater the likelihood that serious complications can be prevented.

Learn ways to manage your arthritis pain

Joint damage from haemochromatosis does not tend to disappear, even if iron levels return to normal with treatment. People with joint damage often have ongoing pain, stiffness and difficulties using their joints. This usually requires a combination of treatments, including

  • medicines,
  • physiotherapy,
  • aids / gadgets, and
  • lifestyle changes that can help manage joint pain and stiffness. This includes keeping active, following a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and balancing rest and activity. 

    Acknowledge your feelings and seek support

    Living with pain and arthritis can be overwhelming. It is natural to feel scared, frustrated, sad or angry. Be aware of these feelings and get help if they start affecting your daily life. 

    Dowload our free information sheet - Haemochromatosis and Haemocrhomatotic Arthritis

    More information and support

    Haemochromatosis Australia are the support and advocacy group for people affected by haemochromatosis, their families and loved ones. They provide support for people with the disorder and increase awareness among the general public and health professions. For more information visit www.haemochromatosis.org.au/

    Download our handy information sheets on dealing with pain, exercise, healthy eating, or emotional wellbeing. 

    Register for Arthritis Assist to speak one-on-one with someone else living with arthritis pain. 

    Join one of our online support groups to connect with other Australians living with arthritis. 

    Call our free infoline on 1800 011 041 to speak with a member of our health team.