Hemochromatosis is a disease in which the body stores too much iron. The disease can be inherited genetically, or it can occur due to another underlying condition, like anemia or alcoholism. When hemochromatosis is not treated, the stored iron builds up in the patient’s organs, like the liver, lungs, and kidneys. Too much iron in these organs may cause them to fail, leaving a patient permanently disabled or even taking the patient’s life.
The human body needs a certain amount of iron in order to function. The body uses iron obtained from foods to build red blood cells, which are responsible for transporting oxygen to all the parts of the body. In a healthy person, about ten percent of the iron the person eats is stored for later use, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In people with hemochromatosis, however, the body absorbs and stores up to 30 percent of the iron in the person’s diet. Over time, a person with hemochromatosis can end up having up to 20 times the normal amount of iron stored in her internal organs, especially the liver, heart, and pancreas.
Hereditary hemochromatosis, which is caused by genetics, is one of the most common genetic disorders in the U.S.
Hereditary hemochromatosis, which is caused by genetics, is one of the most common genetic disorders in the U.S., according to the National Institutes of Health. As many as five people in 1,000 carry the genes necessary to develop hemochromatosis and are therefore at risk for developing the disease at some point in their lives, although not everyone who has the right genes will show symptoms. Hemochromatosis in infants and children is caused by a different set of genes.
Health Problems Associated with Hemochromatosis
Many patients are diagnosed with hemochromatosis without ever suffering symptoms of the disease. Others may experience joint pain, fatigue, lack of energy or sex drive, or heart problems. If hemochromatosis is not correctly diagnosed and treated, patients can suffer serious health problems, including:
- Liver diseases like cirrhosis, cancer, and an enlarged liver
- Pancreas diseases, including a higher risk of diabetes
- Heart diseases, including an enlarged heart, an abnormal heartbeat, or congestive heart failure
- Early menopause
- Diseases of the thyroid and/or adrenal glands
Several different tests exist to help doctors determine whether a patient has hemochromatosis and, if so, whether genetics or another illness is causing the condition. Simple blood tests can reveal whether the patient’s iron levels are too high, and a genetic test can show whether or not the patient is carrying the right combination of genes to develop genetic hemochromatosis. In some cases, a liver biopsy may be used to determine whether iron is building up in the liver and whether the liver has been damaged.
Failure to Diagnose Hemochromatosis
Although many U.S. citizens carry the genes for hemochromatosis, the disease itself is rare and the symptoms overlap with many other conditions. Consequently, a doctor may not think to check for hemochromatosis, often until a patient begins showing signs of irreparable organ damage. A delayed diagnosis or a misdiagnosis that attributes the patient’s symptoms to something other than hemochromatosis robs the patient of valuable time, time that may be necessary to prevent serious injury or death.
If you or a loved one in Nebraska have been diagnosed with hemochromatosis after the disease had progressed to dangerous levels, please don’t hesitate to contact the experienced Omaha medical malpractice attorneys at Cullan & Cullan LLC by calling (402) 882-7080. We can help protect your rights and ensure that you deserve the compensation you deserve.