Background & aims: The course of hereditary hemochromatosis may depend on the degree of iron overload and the time of therapeutic intervention. This analysis evaluates the impact of early diagnosis and iron removal on survival and complications in hereditary hemochromatosis.
Methods: A Cohort of 251 patients with hemochromatosis was followed up for 14.1 +/- 6.8 years.
Results: Survival was reduced in the total group of patients when compared with a matched normal population. Survival in noncirrhotic and nondiabetic patients and in patients diagnosed between 1982 and 1991 was identical with rates expected. Survival was reduced in patients with severe iron overload vs. those with less severe overload. The percentage of early diagnoses increased threefold between 1947 and 1969 to that between 1970 and 1981; there was only a further 20%-25% increase in the last decade. Deaths caused by liver cancer, cardiomyopathy, liver cirrhosis, and diabetes mellitus were increased as compared with expected rates. Liver cancers were associated with cirrhosis and amount of mobilizable iron but not with hepatitis B or C markers.
Conclusions: Prognosis of hemochromatosis and most of its complications, including liver cancer, depend on the amount and duration of iron excess. Early diagnosis and therapy largely prevent the adverse consequences of iron overload.