Issue: 2007 > December > review

Changing aspects of <i>HFE</i>-related hereditary haemochromatosis and endeavours to early diagnosis

E.M.G. Jacobs, A.L.M. Verbeek, H.G. Kreeftenberg, C.Th.B.M. van Deursen, J.J.M. Marx, A.F.H. Stalenhoef, D.W. Swinkels, R.A. de Vries


<i>HFE</i>-related hereditary haemochromatosis (HH) is an iron overload disease attributed to the highly prevalent homozygosity for the C282Y mutation in the <i>HFE</i> gene. The pathophysiology of this error in iron metabolism is not completely elucidated yet, although deficiency of the iron regulatory hormone hepcidin appears to play a role. Ways of diagnosing iron overload include measurement of the serum iron parameters, i.e. serum transferrin saturation and serum ferritin, by a liver biopsy or by calculating the amount of mobilisable body iron withdrawn by phlebotomies. Clinical signs attributed to <i>HFE<i/>-related HH include liver failure, arthralgia, chronic fatigue, diabetes mellitus and congestive heart failure. organ failure can be prevented by phlebotomies starting before irreversible damage has occurred. Therefore, screening to facilitate early diagnosis is desirable in individuals at risk of developing <i>HFE</i>-related iron overload. over time it appeared that the clinical penetrance of the <i>HFE</i> mutations was much lower than had previously been thought. This changed the opinion about a suitable screening modality from case detection, via population screening, to family screening as the most appropriate method to prevent <i>HFE</i>-related disease. However, before the implementation of family screening it is vital to have thorough information on the relevance of the specific health problem involved, on the clinical penetrance of C282Y homozygosity and on the effectiveness of the screening approach.