This is a genetic condition that becomes apparent in some people who possess the gene. People are affected to a variable degree. I will come on to some of the debilitating consequences of genetic haemochromatosis, which include arthritis, joint pain, diabetes, fatigue, psychological or cognitive difficulties, skin conditions, menstrual problems in women, impotence, breathing and heart problems, abdominal pain, liver problems and hair loss.
Just because the condition is not widely spoken about, in either medical or public life, that does not mean that it is not prevalent in the UK. The white UK population of north-European extraction, particularly people of Celtic extraction, gives the UK the highest prevalence anywhere in the world. The condition is found around the world wherever the Irish and Celtic population has migrated to, including Australia, the Americas and South Africa.
One in eight people in the UK carry a faulty copy of the GH gene. That faulty gene is known as HFE. One in 200 people carry two faulty copies of the HFE gene. Those are the people at risk of iron toxicity. In layman’s terms, people must have two copies of the gene in order to be affected by the condition. It is estimated that around 380,000 people worldwide have the genetic haemochromatosis mutation. Of those 380,000 people, 200,000 are under 40 years old, which is why early diagnosis is important. If we can diagnose the condition early, people will not be overlooked and can attend to their symptoms.