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Symptoms - Haemochromatosis

Symptoms of haemochromatosis usually begin between the ages of 30 and 60, although they can occur earlier.

The symptoms tend to develop earlier in men than in women. Women often do not experience problems until after the menopause.

Sometimes there are no symptoms and the condition is only found during a blood test.

Early symptoms

Initial symptoms of haemochromatosis can include:

These symptoms can have many different causes and may sometimes just be because of getting older.

Later problems

As the condition progresses, it can also cause problems such as:

  • loss of sex drive (libido)
  • darkening of the skin, if you are white – you may look permanently tanned
  • tummy (abdominal) pain and swelling
  • yellowing of the skin (which may be less noticeable on brown or black skin) and the white parts of the eyes (jaundice)
  • feeling thirsty all the time and needing to pee frequently
  • severe pain and stiffness in your joints, particularly in the fingers
  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • swelling of your hands and feet
  • an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
  • the testicles getting smaller

These problems are often caused by complications of haemochromatosis that can happen if the condition is not treated early on.

When to see a GP

See a GP if you have:

  • persistent or worrying symptoms that could be caused by haemochromatosis – particularly if you have a northern European family background, as the condition is most common in this group
  • a parent or sibling with haemochromatosis, even if you do not have symptoms yourself – tests can be done to check if you're at risk of developing problems

Talk to the GP about whether you should have blood tests to check for haemochromatosis.

Read more about how haemochromatosis is diagnosed

Page last reviewed: 29 March 2023
Next review due: 29 March 2026