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Commonly referred to as Hereditary Hemochromatosis (HHC). Caused by an overload of iron in the body, hemochromatosis is primarily a hereditary condition. It is known to develop in persons who intake sufficient quantities of dietary iron. Early diagnosis and treatment are known to prevent it, but it can be fatal.

Though rare, it is perhaps the most common genetic disorder. The iron in the body can accumulate in vital organs, and damage or destroy the organ's tissues. In the case of the pancreas, hemochromatosis can lead to diabetes. Skin can also take on a bronze-like, or slate grey colour.

Symptoms can include, but are not limited to, fatigue, severe abdominal pain, nausea. Because of the typical symptoms and reactions the disease maintains, the disease can be misdiagnosed as the following: gallbladder, menstrual and thyroid problems, iron deficiency, hepatitis, diabetes, and in some drastic cases, liver disease.

The liver is generally the most commonly affected organ, though any endocrine gland can be affected, as can the heart, joints and skin. Common causes of death are usually cardiac arrythmia or arrest, and hepatoma. Liver failure can occur as well. There is no cure, but can be treated with early diagnosis and treatment. The only really definitive treatment (aside from various medications to alleviate symptoms, and insulin therapy in the case of diabetics) is actually a good, old-fashioned blood-letting (properly referred to as a phlebotomy). These are scheduled, and can help to reduce excess iron in the blood and thus, the body.

Source: my doctor aunt, and http://home.istar.ca/~chcts/

The genetic disease hemochromatosis has sometimes been called "bronze diabetes" because the kidneys often fail, leading to symptoms similar to those found with diabetes mellitus, and because the deposition of iron into the skin sometimes makes the person look like he or she has an all-over tan.

Physicians used to believe that this disease was rare and mainly affected people of Caucasian descent, but in recent decades scientists have realized it is fairly common and affects a wide range of ethnic groups. Some believe that this genetic defect actually helps people (especially women) survive in areas where malnutrition is widespread and iron is scarce in food.

People suffering from milder forms of this disease may gain relief simply by donating blood on a regular basis to rid themselves of excess iron.


From the science dictionary at http://biotech.icmb.utexas.edu/

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