What are the symptoms of high iron levels?

Elevated iron levels can occur due to overdose of iron supplements or if an underlying disease causes the body to absorb too much iron. Iron overload symptoms affect many parts of the body. Common symptoms are fatigue, changes in skin color, and black stools. Even if there are no symptoms, a doctor can identify elevated iron levels through blood tests. Health experts recommend that a healthy adult ingest no more than 45 milligrams per day.

Iron supplement overdose can cause problems with the gastrointestinal system, nervous system, circulatory system, respiratory system, and skin. Diarrhea, black stools, or bloody stools can indicate high iron levels. The patient may feel nauseated, vomit blood, or taste metal.

The person's skin may appear pale, with a blue tint to the lips and fingernails. His skin might also be flushed. He or she may have a weak pulse, low blood pressure, and go into shock. Nervous system symptoms include lightheadedness, lethargy, and fever. The person may also have seizures or even be in a coma.

People who overdose on iron tablets may not show symptoms. The symptoms may even go away and then come back. If after 48 hours no symptoms are present, the person could recover well. Sometimes the overdose is fatal, so immediate medical attention is needed. Treatment may include stomach pumping or endoscopic techniques to remove any pills that are still in the stomach.

Several genetic diseases affect the body's ability to selectively absorb iron. One major cause is the disease known as hemachromatosis, which is present in about 0.4 percent of people who are of Northern European descent. Some people who have hemochromatosis don't know they have it and find out only when excess iron stored in the body results in damaged organs. People who have blood disorders and need regular blood transfusions may also have high iron levels.

When iron intake rises above the recommended limit of 45 milligrams per day, it can accumulate in susceptible people and can have increased health effects over time. The first signs of high iron levels are weakness, tiredness, and pain in the joints and abdomen. The person may also lose weight. After the initial symptoms, if the iron overload continues, the organs begin to be affected.

Women may miss their periods and feel less interested in sex. Men may lose interest in sex or become impotent. Hair may fall out and the person may have difficulty breathing properly. More severe symptoms include chronic abdominal pain, severe tiredness, and arthritis.

A person who has iron overload can also develop diabetes and high blood sugar levels. His skin can become a bronze or gray color. The person's heartbeat may be irregular and their heart may not work efficiently. He or she could also develop cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer.

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