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Hereditary hemochromatosis is an autosomal recessive disorder that disrupts iron homeostasis, resulting in systemic iron overload. It is the most common inherited disorder among people of northern European ancestry. Despite the high prevalence of the gene mutation, there is a low and variable clinical penetrance. The deposition of excess iron into parenchymal cells leads to cellular dysfunction and the clinical manifestations of the disease. The liver, pancreas, joints, heart, skin, and pituitary gland are the most commonly involved organs. Hereditary hemochromatosis is usually diagnosed in the 40s or 50s. Women are often diagnosed later than men, likely because of menstrual blood loss. There is no typical presentation or pathognomonic signs and symptoms of hereditary hemochromatosis. Because of increased awareness and earlier diagnosis, the end-organ damage secondary to iron overload is not often seen in clinical practice. A common initial presentation is an asymptomatic patient with mildly elevated liver enzymes who is subsequently found to have elevated serum ferritin and transferrin saturation. Ferritin levels greater than 300 ng per mL for men and 200 ng per mL for women and transferrin saturations greater than 45% are highly suggestive of hereditary hemochromatosis. Phlebotomy is the mainstay of treatment and can help improve heart function, reduce abnormal skin pigmentation, and lessen the risk of liver complications. Liver transplantation may be considered in select patients. Individuals with hereditary hemochromatosis have an increased risk of hepatocellular carcinoma and colorectal and breast cancers. Genetic testing for the hereditary hemochromatosis genes should be offered after 18 years of age to first-degree relatives of patients with the condition.


Shawn F Kane, Caroline Roberts, Ryan Paulus. Hereditary Hemochromatosis: Rapid Evidence Review. American family physician. 2021 Sep 01;104(3):263-270

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PMID: 34523883

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