What causes hemochromatosis?
There are 2 kinds of hemochromatosis:
Primary hemochromatosis (also called “hereditary” hemochromatosis) is the most common type of hemochromatosis. Hereditary means that it runs in the family and you are born with it. This type of hemochromatosis occurs when a child inherits a mutated HFE gene from his or her parents. This mutated gene makes your body store too much iron.
Secondary hemochromatosis (also called “acquired” hemochromatosis) can show up in people who have been taking iron pills for more than 10 years or in people who have to get many blood transfusions. People who have certain kinds of anemia or liver disease may also have secondary hemochromatosis.
Who should be tested for hereditary hemochromatosis?
Everyone with a relative with hereditary hemochromatosis should have blood tests to see if they also have it. All people with medical conditions that could be caused by hereditary hemochromatosis should be checked for iron overload. Even if your lab results are normal, you might need to get blood tests again every few years if you have some of the signs of hereditary hemochromatosis or a relative with it.
Adult relatives of a person with hereditary hemochromatosis might consider having a special test to look for an abnormal HFE gene. This test would tell their doctor if they might also have hereditary hemochromatosis.
Recognition and Management of Hereditary Hemochromatosis by DJ Brandhagen, VF Fairbanks, W Baldus (American Family Physician March 01, 2002, http://www.aafp.org/afp/20020301/853.html)
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff