Iron can build up in many different body organs. Common organs and symptoms can include:
- Liver: jaundice, fatigue, itching, swelling of the legs, abnormal bleeding, liver cancer
- Heart: shortness of breath, leg swelling and fatigue (due to heart failure)
- Pancreas: diabetes
- Skin: abnormal color (often a bronze shade)
- Testes: loss of sex drive and sexual function
- Joints: joint pains
However, iron buildup usually only happens for specific reasons. In most people, iron accumulates in the body because of a condition called hereditary hemochromatosis. This genetic disease is uncommon, but not rare. As many as five in 1,000 Americans carry the genes for this condition. But only a minority of these people will go on to develop organ damage.
Hemochromatosis is more common in men than in women. And it usually doesnt cause symptoms until people are in their 50s or 60s.
Its rarer. But people can accumulate too much iron from other causes, such as frequent blood transfusions. Or by getting massive amounts of iron in their diet. The small amount of iron that is found in food and dietary supplements almost never causes problems in people who dont carry the genes for hereditary hemochromatosis.