Is the world pumping too much iron?

Posted June 4th, 2018 by Canadian Hemochromatosis Society

New research and new guidelines recommend early diagnosis and treatment for one of the world’s most common genetic conditions.

Iron overload or hemochromatosis (haemochromatosis), is a serious condition in which too much iron is absorbed and stored in the body. It can cause liver cirrhosis, liver cancer, arthritis, diabetes and general fatigue.

World Haemochromatosis Week, which kicked off on June 2nd, aims to strengthen awareness of iron overload as early diagnosis will result in better health outcomes for individuals as well as huge savings for a country’s health care system[1].

Hemochromatosis groups worldwide, including the Canadian Hemochromatosis Society, have joined in a push to raise awareness and improve the rate of early diagnosis of this prevalent but all too often overlooked condition.

Through international collaboration, a task force of hemochromatosis experts has agreed upon an objective, simple and practical set of therapeutic recommendations for managing hereditary hemochromatosis, which are applicable around the globe[2].

The Canadian Hemochromatosis Society welcomes this landmark guideline, noting that although hemochromatosis Canada’s most common genetic disorder, it is still widely under-diagnosed.  About one in 300 people of European origin has the genetic predisposition for hemochromatosis and additionally, one in 7 people are carriers of the gene that causes it.

Hemochromatosis is under-diagnosed, partly because public awareness of the condition is low but also because its symptoms, including fatigue, depression and joint pain, are confused with a range of other illnesses. If left undetected and untreated, iron overload can result in premature death.

Although hemochromatosis is detected by simple blood tests, support groups around the world continue to hear familiar stories from people with significant health problems caused by a late diagnosis. Recent research by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) has shown that hemochromatosis should be treated even when iron stores are only mildly elevated. [3]

The tragedy is that so many people suffer harm unnecessarily when timely management of their condition is simple, safe and effective. Hemochromatosis can easily be managed through blood donations which remove iron from the body and a diagnosis of hemochromatosis should be no barrier to a normal life.  Joining together world-wide to raise awareness of the condition should help prevent harm from hemochromatosis.

[1]  De Graff, B et al. (2016, November 16). Population Screening for Hereditary Haemochromatosis in Australia: Construction and Validation of a State-Transition Cost-Effectiveness Model. PharmacoEconomics.

[2]  Adams, P. et al. (2018, March 27). Therapeutic recommendations in HFE hemochromatosis for p.Cys282Tyr (C282Y/C282Y) homozygous genotype. Hepatology International.

[3] Ong, Sim Y et al.  Reduction of body iron in HFE-related haemochromatosis and moderate iron overload (Mi-Iron): a multicentre, participantblinded, randomised controlled trial The Lancet Haematology, Volume 4 , Issue 12 , e607 – e614