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Radiographics. 2009 Oct;29(6):1575-89. doi: 10.1148/rg.296095511.

MR imaging findings of iron overload.

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Department of Radiology, Faculty of Medicine, University of São Paulo, Av Dr Eneas de Carvalho Aguiar 255, 05403-900 São Paulo, Brazil.


Hemochromatosis can be classified as (a) primary, when it originates from a genetic disturbance that promotes the increase of iron absorption, or (b) secondary, when it relates to chronic diseases or to multiple transfusions. The distribution of iron accumulation differs between these two forms; therefore, they can be distinguished by using imaging methods in the majority of cases. Magnetic resonance (MR) imaging is the most sensitive and specific imaging modality in the diagnosis of hemochromatosis. The susceptibility effect caused by the accumulation of iron leads to signal loss in the affected tissues, particularly with the T2*-weighted sequences, which makes the diagnosis of iron overload possible. By using MR imaging techniques, it is possible to estimate the hepatic iron concentration in a noninvasive way, thereby avoiding repeated biopsies. Hemochromatosis can lead to complications, such as a higher frequency of neoplasia, particularly the development of hepatocellular carcinoma. Other neoplasms, such as colorectal tumors, are also associated. Complications related to the treatment of chronic anemia include the appearance of peliosis hepatis and tumors, which can regress after the suspension of treatment with drugs. Knowledge of the disease and of the patterns of iron deposition in patients with iron overload enables not only diagnosis, but also treatment, follow-up, and the detection of possible complications by using imaging methods.

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