Purpose: Hemochromatosis is a genetic disorder of iron absorption that affects 5 per 1,000 persons and is associated with reduced health and quality of life. We sought to determine the type and frequency of symptoms that patients experienced before the diagnosis and the treatments that they received.
Methods: We mailed a questionnaire to 3,562 patients with hemochromatosis who were located using patient advocacy groups, physicians, blood centers, newsletters, and the Internet.
Results: Of the 2,851 respondents, 99% were white and 62% were men. Circumstances that led to diagnosis of hemochromatosis included symptoms (35%), an abnormal laboratory test (45%), and diagnosis of a family member with hemochromatosis (20%). The mean (+/- SD) age of symptom onset was 41 +/- 14 years. Symptoms had been present for an average of 10 +/- 10 years before the diagnosis was made. Among the 58% of patients with symptoms, 65% had physician-diagnosed arthritis and 52% had liver disease. The most common and troublesome symptoms were extreme fatigue (46%), arthralgia (44%), and loss of libido (26%). Physician instructions to patients included treatment with phlebotomy (90%), testing family members (75%), and avoiding iron supplements (65%).
Conclusions: The diagnosis of hemochromatosis in most patients was delayed. Physician education is needed to increase the detection of patients with the disease and to improve its management.