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Haemochromatosis: a clinical update for the practising physician

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Haemochromatosis is most commonly due to the autosomal recessive inheritance of a C282Y substitution in the HFE protein, whereby both alleles of the corresponding gene are affected. The disease is characterised by an inappropriate increase in intestinal iron absorption due to reduced expression of the iron regulatory protein, hepcidin. Progressive iron deposition in parenchymal tissues may ultimately lead to liver and other organ toxicity. The characteristic biochemical abnormalities are raised serum ferritin and transferrin saturation, which can be used in conjunction with genetic tests and emerging magnetic resonance imaging‐based techniques to diagnose patients with the disorder. Progressive iron overload can manifest clinically as advanced fibrosis, cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. Enigmatically, the penetrance of both raised iron indices and clinically significant disease is incomplete in patients with hereditary haemochromatosis. Regardless, advanced clinical presentations of the disease have become less common due to increased awareness and earlier diagnosis. On the other hand, obesity and alcohol have been identified as major risk factors that can compound the risk of liver injury in people with hereditary (HFE) haemochromatosis. The prospect of modifying genes that may contribute to the clinical expression of the disease is the subject of ongoing research. Treatment with phlebotomy remains the first‐line therapy, and if instigated early leads to a normal life expectancy. A healthy, well‐balanced diet is recommended to be incorporated as part of the ongoing management of the disease.
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Keywords: HFE; haemochromatosis; iron overload; serum ferritin

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 2018

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