Lifestyle

'Believe me, I know' the seriousness of HH

By SAMANTHA BOWMAN

For the Mirror

Almost 600 people in the general Federal Way area have Hemochromatosis. Just under 10,000 are carriers of the disease, and very few of them are ever aware of it. Every case that goes unrecognized leads to unnecessary ailments and premature death that harms not only the victim, but their family and friends as well.

Believe me, I know. Last spring, my grandfather’s case of Hereditary Hemochromatosis (HH), or iron overload disease, began to cause extremely severe complications and he required a liver transplant. Around the same time, my mom, uncle and dad were all tested, so that if they had HH, they could begin treatment and avoid the same problems as my grandpa.

Both my mom and uncle tested positive; fortunately, my dad did not.

After learning more about the disease and how common yet little-known it is, I felt obligated to share as much information with as many people as possible.

After loosing my grandfather in October, and seeing how simple my mom’s life-saving treatment is, I wanted as few people to go uneducated as possible.

Hemochromatosis is the most common genetic disease, affecting approximately one in every 200 people, nearly one in every 100 African-Americans and Irish Americans.

It is also carried by approximately 8 percent of Americans (or one in every 13 people). That’s me.

With Hemochromatosis, a double gene mutation affects the body’s production of hepcidin, a liver produced enzyme that controls the body’s retention of iron in joints and organs. Once iron levels reach a certain point, symptoms such as arthritis, diabetes (type two) and heart and liver disease occur. Because these symptoms are often overlooked as signs of aging, many cases of iron overload are tragically never diagnosed.

It doesn’t help the problem that many doctors are as unaware as the next person is of Hemochromatosis (my grandfather was a doctor himself and didn’t figure it out until his blood had almost 20 times the iron of a regular person’s), so many of them don’t think to check.

Testing patients’ iron levels at routine checkups is a simple, cheap task that can be done nearly painlessly (it is done with simple blood tests), and DNA testing can also be done relatively cheaply at home, although it is less accurate as far as testing goes, and it doesn’t actually test your iron levels.

People with symptoms commonly related to Hemochromatosis, or a family history of such symptoms, would be smart to have the Serum Iron, Serum Ferritin and Total Iron Binding Capacity (TIBC) tests. If your iron levels are too high, the treatment will be long and painful. Just kidding. It is actually extremely simple. Hemochromatosis is treated by phlebotomy, which is merely a fancy word for the process of donating blood.

Symptoms to check for are:

• Chronic fatigue syndrome.

• Diabetes.

• Arthritis/joint pains.

• Abdominal pain.

• Heart arrhythmia, heart failure, heart attack, heart disease.

• Skin discoloration

• Liver disease, cirrhosis, primary liver cancer, elevated liver enzymes.

• Irregular heartbeat.

• Hair loss.

• Weight loss.

• Setting off airport metal detectors for no apparent reason (only in extreme cases).

• Hypothyroidism.

• Impotence, early menopause, irregular periods.

• Infertility, hysterectomy, no children.

• Red palms.

• Jaundice.

If you have any of these symptoms, please do yourself a favor and do a favor for the people that love you, and have your iron levels checked. For more information, visit www.americanhs.org.

Samantha Bowman is a junior at Todd Beamer High School in Federal Way. She has been tested for Hemochromatosis. “Fortunately, I only carry it,” she said.

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