Hemochromatosis is one of the most common genetic diseases in the United States. It's most common in Caucasians of Northern European descent. The disease is less common in African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and American Indians.
Primary hemochromatosis is more common in men than in women. Also, older people are more likely to develop the disease than younger people. In fact, signs and symptoms usually don't occur in men until they're 40 to 60 years old.
In women, signs and symptoms usually don't occur until after the age of 50 (after menopause). Young children rarely develop hemochromatosis.
Inheriting two faulty HFE genes (one from each parent) is the major risk factor for hemochromatosis. However, many people who have two copies of the faulty gene don't develop signs or symptoms of the disease.
Alcoholism is another risk factor for hemochromatosis. A family history of certain diseases and conditions also puts you at higher risk for hemochromatosis. Examples of such diseases and conditions include heart attack, liver disease, diabetes, arthritis, and erectile dysfunction (impotence).
The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.