Bronze Diabetes: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

You must have heard of different types of diabetes like type 1, type 2, prediabetes and gestational diabetes but probably you may not have heard of bronze diabetes. Unlike other types of diabetes with symptoms like excessive thirst, increase in appetite or excessive urination, bronze diabetes has a distinctive symptom of darkening the skin. 

This type of diabetes is called bronze diabetes because it makes the skin look brown due to the excess iron accumulated in the body. Another name for bronze diabetes is hemochromatosis.
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) describes this condition as a single gene mutation that causes extra iron to be absorbed from food in the intestine, and the body lacks an efficient means of excreting the accumulated excess iron.

Over time, this iron accumulates in the tissues of the body, most notably the pancreas, and the liver. The extra iron builds up in the organs and damages them. Hemochromatosis is a genetic condition, this means that for you to have this disease, you must have two sets of a mutated HFE gene.

When you have only one set of this faulty gene, you will not have this disease but it can be passed to your children if your partner has the gene too. 

It is this faulty gene that makes the body to take in too much iron from food than it needs. Remember that iron is an essential nutrient needed in the body but the body only needs to take in only the amount it needs.

Unlike glucose that can be passed out in form of urine, the body has no natural way of removing the excess iron it has absorbed. So with time, probably years, the body stores these iron in different organs starting from the liver to the pancreas and then to the skin.

Excess iron in the liver damages the liver while the excess iron in the pancreas damages it leading to diabetes. Bronze diabetes is referred to as secondary type of diabetes because it is caused by another medical condition. 


Bronze diabetes
Bronze Diabetes

Apart from skin discoloration which is the distinctive, there are other symptoms a patient with bronze diabetes can experienced. These are:

(1) Fatigue

This is a telling symptom of diabetes. You feel very tired and exhausted but this tiredness does not go even after you may have had enough sleep or rest. You lack energy and find it difficult to do normal task.

(2) Erectile Dysfunction

According to  up to 75% of men who have diabetes have erectile dysfunction. When a man has this condition, he cannot get an erection or keep it for a long time during sex.

(3) Loss of hair on the body

People with diabetes are at risk of having loss of hair. This is because their immune system is likely to attack the hair follicles and this can lead to patches or baldness in some areas of the head.

(4) Joint pain

Diabetic patient are likely to feel pain in places like the foot, spine, hips, wrists, fingers because the disease affects both the nerves and circulation. The pain can also be felt in the tendons and muscles.

(5) Missed periods

Females who are affected with this diabetes including other types may start seeing their periods normally but may also experienced missed period and stoppage after some years.

(6) Increased Urination

Polyuria, which means urinating more than normal is a common symptom of diabetes. This is because of the excess glucose in the bloodstream.

(7) Weakening of the heart – Cardiomyopathy

A condition that affects the heart muscles making it difficult for the heart to pump blood to other parts of the body.


(1) If you notice unexplained darkening of your skin, you may have to see a doctor for some tests and examinations. A doctor can diagnose hemochromatosis by taking a sample of your blood to evaluate your iron level.

(2) A DNA test is also done to know if there are faulty HFE genes present in your body. Biopsy is also done on your liver to know if there are damages too. If you know any of your family member who is diagnosed of bronze diabetes, it is advised that you carry out tests too to know if you are carrier so that treatment can be commenced as soon as possible.


(1) Phlebotomy

Phlebotomy is used to draw blood from a vein for laboratory purpose. It can also be done to remove extra blood in the body as part of treatment for certain health conditions. Health conditions like hepatitis B, hepatitis C, pulmonary edema and hemochromatosis.

Just like normal blood drawing, the skin is wiped with an antiseptic while elastic band is tied on the hand to make the skin more visible. The needle is inserted after the doctor or nurse must have selected the right vein to draw the blood from before the band is removed. Also, the needle is removed when the right of blood is drawn.

To treat hemochromatosis, the iron-rich blood is removed from the body, the blood which may be about 1 pint is removed once or twice a week for the first stage. After your iron level is normal, it can be done once in 2 or 3 months.

(2) Iron Chelation Therapy

This involves the use of medications to remove the excess iron in your body, the medicine is called deferasirox, the medicine can be taken orally or injected into the body. If taken orally, it can be done at home but if injected, should be done through the supervision of medical professional.

(3) Dietary Changes

The food you eat can also help reduced the amount of iron your body absorbs. Intake of foods that contain enough vitamin C should be reduced, this is because vitamin C helps your body to absorb more iron. This does not mean that you should avoid them completely, but find out from your doctor how much of it can be beneficial to you.

Avoid eating raw fishes and shellfish as it may contain infections that are harmful especially to those with hemochromatosis. Since excess iron also affect the livers, you should limit how much alcohol you take so as not to damage your liver more. Do not take iron, including iron pills, iron injections, or multivitamins that contain iron.


Some people with bronze diabetes may reversed the development of other types of diabetes when treated especially if the disease is diagnosed early while in others, the pancreas may be permanently damage resulting to the use of insulin injections and other management procedures. It is therefore advisable that you should also check your iron level regularly.

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