Hundreds of thousands could be suffering with ‘stealth disease’ caused by common genetic disorder, which quadruples liver disease risk and doubles chances of arthritis Haemochromatosis was previously thought to be a minor blood condition But the genetic fault which causes build up of iron in the blood is much worse Scientists at Exeter University found
Hundreds of thousands could be suffering with ‘stealth disease’ caused by common genetic disorder, which quadruples liver disease risk and doubles chances of arthritis
- Haemochromatosis was previously thought to be a minor blood condition
- But the genetic fault which causes build up of iron in the blood is much worse
- Scientists at Exeter University found it quadruples the risk of liver disease
- The condition, referred to as the ‘Celtic Curse’, can double the risk of athritis
Hundreds of thousands of people in Britain are at risk of a ‘stealth disease’ caused by a common genetic mutation, researchers have warned.
Haemochromatosis, which leads to a build-up of iron in the blood, was previously thought to be a minor problem causing low-level health risk.
But scientists at Exeter University found the genetic mutation, carried by 250,000 in the UK, is far more dangerous than thought.
Long-distance runner Ruth Jones, (left) experienced aches and pains before she was diagnosed with haemochromatosis, while Andy McLennan (right) had to quit drinking
Studies published last night in the British Medical Journal and Journals of Gerontology reveal haemochromatosis quadruples the risk of liver disease and doubles the risk of arthritis and frailty.
It also causes higher risk of diabetes and chronic pain.
The researchers found that in men, who are at twice the risk of women, 1.6 per cent of all hip replacements and 5.8 per cent of all liver cancers were down to haemochromatosis.
Crucially, however, there is a simple treatment if the condition is properly diagnosed.
Simply removing blood allows iron levels to drop to safe levels.
At first doctors take a pint every week – but once iron levels have stabilised patients only need to give blood four times a year, and their blood can even be used by hospitals to help other patients in transfusions and operations.
Professor David Melzer, of the University of Exeter, said: ‘The haemochromatosis mutations were thought to only rarely cause health problems.
‘We’ve shown that hereditary haemochromatosis is actually a much more common and stealth disease, including in older people.
‘We now need to test ways of screening and diagnosing haemochromatosis earlier.
‘It’s exciting to think that better care might prevent so much unnecessary disease.’
Haemochromatosis is the most common genetic disorder in the Western world, and is particularly associated with those of Celtic descent.
In Ireland and parts of the UK where as many as one in eight carry the genetic mutation, it is known as the ‘Celtic curse’.
The condition is caused when people have two particular faulty genes.
If both parents are carriers the condition can be passed on to their children.
The researchers analysed data from 2,890 people with the two genetic mutations, nearly ten times more than in the previous largest study.
Of that group, one in five men and one in 10 women with the mutations developed additional diseases, compared to those without mutations.
The average age of those studied was 63, and the data suggested that even more disease developed at older ages.
Women have partial protection from the onset of genetic haemochromatosis until later in life because they lose iron through menstruation and having children, although some younger women do develop the disease.
Co-author Dr Luke Pilling said: ‘We found that diagnosis of haemochromatosis is often delayed or missed.
‘That’s not surprising as symptoms such as joint pains and tiredness are frequently mistaken as signs of ageing.
‘Yet it is likely that these potentially deadly health risks could be treated and avoided, transforming lives, especially at older ages.’