Iron accumulation hides, but has a name
The thing about hemochromatosis is that it can show up as any number of
problems, from fatigue to arthritis to a heart attack or liver failure and
often doctors don't know to look for this as the reason for these other
Josephine Thomas limps because of arthritis in her hip, but the condition
is a sign of another more serious disease called hemochromatosis. It's a
problem of too much iron in the body.
The disease affected her even as a child. "I've always been, since I was
about six years old, I've always been so tired," she said.
Doctors treated her fatigue with iron. It was the worst thing they could
have given someone with hemochromatosis.
"If they had only known, I wouldn't be in the shape I am today," she
maintains. I'd be more frisky."
Normally, a person absorbs the iron he or she needs from the digestive
system and gets rid of the rest. But with hemochromatosis, too much iron is
absorbed, which then gets deposited in the internal organs, like the heart,
the liver or the brain. People with hemochromatosis can end up developing a
variety of problems, ranging from diabetes to heart attacks.
The disease is passed on through a common gene, especially in people of
English or Celtic ancestry.
Like Josephine's daughter Sandra, one in four are carriers. One in 10 have
In Pennsylvania, about 21 or 22 percent of the population is Irish and the
vast majority do not know they have it.
Now, UPMC has just opened a hemochromatosis clinic to help better diagnose,
counsel and manage the disease. Doctors there say that if the disease is
recognized early and managed aggressively, prevent of iron accumulation can
take place to the point where they will develop tissue injury.
And that's done by phlebotomy or the drawing of blood and the iron that
comes with it.
If it's caught early enough, a draw every three to six months will prevent