Hereditary hemochromatosis: presentation and diagnosis in the 1990s

Am J Gastroenterol. 1997 May;92(5):784-9.


Objectives: In the past, patients with hereditary hemochromatosis have been identified predominantly from symptomatic presentation or from family studies. In the 1990s, iron studies on routine screening chemistry panels have become more commonplace. The purpose of this paper is to describe the clinical, laboratory, and presenting features of a series of patients with hereditary hemochromatosis, diagnosed from 1990 to 1995.

Methods: Clinical information, serum and liver iron studies, liver histology, and phlebotomy requirements were evaluated in 40 patients with newly diagnosed hereditary hemochromatosis prospectively referred to a tertiary university-based hepatology clinic.

Results: Eighty-three percent of patients came to medical attention as a result of screening blood work: 73% were asymptomatic and 78% had normal physical examinations. Only three patients had cirrhosis from hemochromatosis alone, only two were diabetic, and only two had increased skin pigmentation. These findings are in contrast to previous reports of hemochromatosis probands in which patients with symptoms and more advanced disease were identified. The hepatic iron concentration, hepatic iron index, and age at diagnosis were similar for men and women.

Conclusions: With the use of screening iron studies on routine serum chemistry panels, patients with hemochromatosis can be identified and subsequently treated before they have symptoms or organ damage.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Biopsy, Needle
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Ferritins / blood
  • Hemochromatosis / blood
  • Hemochromatosis / diagnosis*
  • Hemochromatosis / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Iron / metabolism
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Liver / pathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Transferrin / metabolism


  • Transferrin
  • Ferritins
  • Iron