Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Iron Disease Runs in This Family

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Iron Disease Runs in This Family

Article excerpt

Dear Dr. Donohue: A year ago my sister was diagnosed with hemochromatosis. Her primary-care physician performed several tests and finally a liver biopsy to arrive at this diagnosis.

Afterward, my brother and I both had our iron levels checked. His was q uite high. Mine was a tad lower than normal.

Both my brother and sister have been having weekly bloodletting to lower their iron levels. Could you tell me more about hemochromatosis? Why are their iron levels so high and mine so low? How does one get this disease? Should our children be checked for it? If so, at what age? Hemochromatosis (HE-muh-CROW-muh-TOE-siss), a tongue-twisting name, is much more common than once believed. It is, in fact, one of the most common genetic disorders. With hemochromatosis, the body absorbs too much iron. The excess iron is unloaded in body organs, which eventually get overwhelmed. The pancreas, for example, can no longer produce insulin, and diabetes results. An iron-loaded liver becomes scarred with cirrhosis. Too much iron in the heart muscle leads to heart failure. The skin takes on a bronzed appearance. Joints might become arthritic. All of that can be prevented if the diagnosis is made before organs are damaged. Since hemochromatosis is a genetic disease, all close relatives of an affected person should be checked for it with a couple of simple blood tests. The age when testing should be performed is up in the air. Some favor testing as early as age 3. Others hold off until age 10. Your brother and sister have the illness because they have a pair of hemochromatosis genes, which they inherited from both their mother and father. You do not have the illness because you have at most one gene. That would make you a carrier of the gene. If your husband also is a carrier, your children can come down with hemochromatosis. Your iron is a bit low probably because you are still menstruating. Red blood cells are the chief source of body iron. That explains your siblings' treatment. They have blood taken every so often to remove the extra iron from their body. Dear Dr. Donohue: I am a 48-year-old woman, and I have just been told I have a cyst on my liver. …

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