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Overview of Iron Overload


James Peter Adam Hamilton

, MD, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

Last full review/revision Sep 2020| Content last modified Sep 2020
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Iron Iron Deficiency Iron deficiency is a common cause of anemia, a condition in which the number of red blood cells is low. Iron deficiency usually results from loss of blood in adults (including bleeding from... read more is essential for life, so the body usually tightly controls iron absorption from food and recycles the iron from red blood cells. People lose small amounts of iron every day, and even a healthy diet contains only a small amount of iron. Thus, people rarely have too much iron in their body. Causes of excess iron in the body (iron overload) include the following:

When the body gradually takes in more iron than it needs, the excess iron is deposited in tissues throughout the body. Symptoms and complications can occur if iron accumulates in the endocrine organs (especially the pancreas, gonads, and pituitary gland), liver, and heart.

Taking in a large amount of iron all at once, such as in an overdose of iron pills, can be very dangerous. Iron poisoning Iron Poisoning Symptoms develop in stages and begin with vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Liver failure can develop days later. The diagnosis is based on the person’s history, symptoms, and the amount... read more damages the digestive tract, liver, heart and brain, and can be fatal.

African iron overload occurs most often in sub-Saharan Africa among people who consume an iron-rich fermented drink. A genetic component is thought to contribute to the development of African iron overload, but no gene has yet been identified.

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