Your Health: Do you suffer from Iron Overload?

May is Hemochromatosis awareness month in Canada.

Did you know that up to 350,000 Canadians suffer from Iron Overload, also known as Hemochromatosis, and yet most of the afflicted are unaware of its existence? May is Hemochromatosis Awareness Month in Canada, and the Canadian Hemochromatosis Society (CHS) is committed to ensuring that all Canadians are alerted to the prevalence of this most common genetic disorder. After all, 1 in 9 of us carry the gene that causes us to store too much iron in our bodies.

What is Hemochromatosis?

Hereditary Hemochromatosis (HHC) is the most common genetic disorder affecting Canadians. It is a crippling, potentially fatal condition caused by a defect of iron metabolism that leads to iron overload in vital organs, joints and tissues. The damage caused by Hemochromatosis is preventable if a diagnosis is made relatively early in life. Left untreated, both the length and the quality of person’s life are at risk from a wide variety of secondary ailments, which are often treated without identifying the root cause of Iron Overload.

How do you know you have Hemochromatosis?

Although Hemochromatosis is a lifelong genetic condition, symptoms may not appear until the iron has reached toxic levels, often not until a person has reached their 40’s. The first symptoms can be as varied as chronic fatigue, arthritis (often in the hands and fingers), loss of libido, and abdominal pain.

A simple iron test given by your doctor can help determine its presence. If untreated, more serious outcomes emerge, often in the form of diabetes, bronzing of the skin, severe mood swings, heart attacks, and cancers, especially of the liver and pancreas. Once Hemochromatosis is diagnosed, the rest of a patient’s family can be tested for the condition. When Hemochromatosis is discovered at an early age, serious medical consequences can usually be prevented entirely.

How is Hemochromatosis treated?

It’s simple. You give blood, frequently at first to remove the toxic iron from the organs, and then regularly at Canadian Blood Services clinics across the country. Regular blood donations can permit Hemochromatosis sufferers to enjoy longer lives without worsening medical complications. The patient enjoys a longer and more productive life, the Canadian blood supply benefits from regular donations, and our health care system avoids the huge future costs associated with treating serious diabetic, heart, and cancer cases. Now that’s a winning formula for all Canadians!

How can I find out more?

Simply log onto to find out more about hemochromatosis. The Canadian Hemochromatosis Society wants to be “out of business” in 10 years, when all Canadians will know the steps we can take to protect the lives of ourselves AND our families. We invite you to join us in our quest.

Photo © Perales Gonzalez

Copyright 2008 The Canadian Hemochromatosis Society. All Rights Reserved.