HEREDITARY Haemochromatosis (HH) is a genetic condition in which the body absorbs too much iron. This condition is particularly common among the Irish population. In most parts of Europe, one in 400 people will develop the condition, but one in five people of Celtic origin carry the gene, meaning it occurs in approximately one in 80 people here.
Haemochromatosis is sometimes referred to as the Celtic Curse due to its high levels in this population. The body can only store so much iron. When the stores become full up, any extra circulating iron gets deposited in various organs, such as the pancreas, liver and heart. If the levels continue to increase and the condition goes untreated, it can cause irreversible, potentially fatal, organ damage.
HH usually shows itself in the fourth or fifth decade of life. Men and women are equally likely to carry the gene but pre-menopausal women are protected from iron build-up and symptoms due to blood loss in pregnancy and menstruation. After menopause iron levels can climb more rapidly. A diet high in food supplements or in alcohol (which increases iron absorption) can cause symptoms earlier in life.
Symptoms may include tiredness, muscle and joint pain, abdominal discomfort, reduced libido or sexual dysfunction, diabetes and darkening of the skin. If iron overload increases unchecked, the skin may become more bronzed and diabetes, cirrhosis and heart problems can follow.
HH can be diagnosed by a simple blood test, which your GP can arrange. It is a genetic test so you must consent to this. Results can take several weeks to come back. If you are diagnosed as having haemochromatosis, treatment is surprisingly simple. The level of ferritin in blood is an indicator