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Haemochromatosis and diabetes

Haemochromatosis is when there’s too much iron in the blood and that can lead to diabetes. This type of diabetes is secondary diabetes and is like type 1.

Secondary diabetes is when diabetes occurs because of another medical condition, like haemochromatosis. You might also hear haemochromatosis called the 'bronze diabetes'. That is because of the change of skin tone caused by the illness.

We are here to support you through any type of diabetes, including when it's caused by another illness. 

What is haemochromatosis?

Haemochromatosis is an inherited condition. It leads to the build-up of iron levels in the body. This is iron overload and causes you to become very tired and lose weight. Both of these are also symptoms of diabetes, but that doesn't mean you already have diabetes. You should speak with your doctor if you notice or feel these changes. 

Other symptoms of haemochromatosis include weight loss, joint pain and weakness. 

The build-up of iron in your body is a slow process. But if you don't get it treated the condition can damage parts of your body like the pancreas. The damage to the pancreas is how this illness causes diabetes. 

How does haemochromatosis cause diabetes?

Haemochromatosis causes your body to absorb more iron than it needs from your food. This extra iron is stored in organs like the pancreas. It then damages the pancreas so the organ can't produce insulin properly. And we all need insulin to help glucose (sugar) get into our cells. People with untreated diabetes have too much glucose in their blood because they don't have enough insulin.

So a rise of iron in your blood can damage your pancreas. That means it can't produce insulin properly. And that is how secondary diabetes is caused by haemochromatosis.  

If you notice any symptoms of diabetes you should speak with your GP as soon as possible. Look out for things like:

  • going to the toilet a lot
  • being really thirsty
  • feeling more tired than usual
  • losing weight without trying to
  • genital itching or thrush
  • cuts and wounds take longer to heal
  • blurred vision.

It can be daunting to hear that an illness you have can cause another. If you need support then you can contact our helpline for help and advice. Or you can speak to others going through a similar situation on the online forum

How to prevent diabetes caused by haemochromatosis

Treatment for haemochromatosis is the best way to avoid developing diabetes. By reducing the iron in your body you're less likely to damage your pancreas. 

There are different treatment types for haemochromatosis. The first is phlebotomy and involves removing blood to lower your iron levels. Chelation therapy is the other treatment. This is when you take medication to lower the iron levels in your body.

You may also get advice on diet as part of a treatment plan. These changes include avoiding some supplements like vitamin C and iron. And not drinking too much alcohol.

What to do if you develop diabetes

Being diagnosed with diabetes can be a huge shock. It is normal to experience a range of feelings, including finding it hard to come to terms with the diagnosis. The important thing to remember is that you're not alone.

Firstly you will have the chance to speak with a healthcare professional. They will take you through your treatment options and what your diabetes means. Your treatment could be diet and exercise, tablets or insulin.

There are also many people going through a similar situation. You can find like-minded people and help for coping through some of our tools. Our online forum is a great place to find support and meet people in the diabetes community. Having people who understand how you feel can really help. 


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