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Hereditary and Acquired Iron Overload

[Article in French]
  • de Korwin JD.

Service de medecine interne H, CHU de Nancy, hopital central, 29, avenue du Marechal-de-Lattre-de-Tassigny, 54035 Nancy.

Since the discovery of HFE gene in 1996, considerable progress has been made concerning the iron-metabolism and its major abnormalities. Five types of hereditary hemochromatosis are actually known: type 1 (HFE gene), type 2A (HJV gene), type 2B (HAMP gene), type 3 (TfR2 gene), type 4 (SLC40A1 gene). The HFE C282Y +/+ mutation is responsible for the most frequent type of hemochromatosis in France. Various secondary causes can lead to iron-overload: associated genetic diseases, exogenous iron intake, thalassaemia and refractory anaemia, hepatic siderosis, alcoholic hepatitis, cutaneous porphyria and cirrhosis. The deleterious consequences of iron-overload are due to the interactions of the environmental factors. The role of HFE heterozygote mutations is still discussed. In clinical practice, the interpretation of a serum ferritin increase is a frequent problem that needs a careful evaluation based on the tranferrin saturation measurement. Significant increase of both these factors is in favour of an HFE C282Y +/+ hemochromatosis, after exclusion of a hepatocellular insufficiency or a refractory anaemia. Nevertheless, high ferritin is not always a marker of iron-overload. Thus, there are many disorders increasing the serum ferritin levels without iron overload : cytolysis (hepatic...), inflammatory or infectious syndromes, high alcohol intake, neoplasia... Looking for HFE mutations help to separate type 1 hemochromatosis from other conditions mainly hepatic siderosis (metabolic disorders). The identification of rare types of hemochromatosis (types 2-4) is only required in particular cases. The evaluation of the iron overload is now based on hepatic MRI determination rather than liver biopsy. Repeated phlebotomies remain the essential way to decrease the iron overload in HFE hemochromatosis and to prevent the occurrence of severe and irreversible complications (cirrhosis, arthropathies, cardiac failure, and diabetes). Because of the link established between the amount of iron-overload and the occurrence of complications and the mortality over-risk in HFE C282Y +/+ hemochromatosis, venesections must be started when serum ferritin is higher than 300 microg/l in man and 200 microg/l in woman, whatever the clinical manifestations are and obviously before the symptomatic phase of the disease.


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