DOCTOR'S VIEW ARCHIVE
Iron Overload (Hemochromatosis) ... To Screen or Not to Screen?
July has been designated Hemochromatosis Screening Awareness Month
in the United States but the question all year long everywhere in the
world is: Whether to screen or not to screen? That is the question
that divides the health care professionals who care for people with
hemochromatosis, a disorder commonly called iron overload.
If not recognized and treated, iron overload can have dire
consequences such as scarring of the liver (cirrhosis),
diabetes, and heart failure.
The means to screen for iron overload are available. But they are
not being used. Why? Because there is disagreement about whether
screening should be done.
Some Areas of Agreement
There are several areas of agreement about iron overload
(hemochromatosis). The condition is due to an inability to regulate iron
absorption. Too much of the iron in food is
absorbed from the intestine and passes into the blood stream. The
extra iron accumulates in organs ever so slowly. Someone with
hemochromatosis may typically have chemically detectable iron
overload by age 30 but not experience even the first signs or
symptoms of the disease (such as unusual weakness and fatigue,
weight loss, bronzed skin (not caused by sunlight), joint and
abdominal pains, impotence in men, and cessation of menstrual periods
in women) until they are past 40.