Hundreds of thousands could be suffering with ‘stealth disease’

Hundreds of thousands could be suffering with ‘stealth disease’

Hundreds of thousands could be suffering with ‘stealth disease’ caused by common genetic disorder, which quadruples liver disease risk and doubles chances of arthritis

  • Haemochromatosis was previously thought to be a minor blood condition
  • But the genetic fault which causes build up of iron in the blood is much worse
  • Scientists at Exeter University found it quadruples the risk of liver disease
  • The condition, referred to as the ‘Celtic Curse’, can double the risk of athritis

Hundreds of thousands of people in Britain are at risk of a ‘stealth disease’ caused by a common genetic disorder, researchers have warned.

Haemochromatosis, which leads to a build-up of iron in the blood, was previously thought to be a minor problem causing a low-level health risk.

But scientists at Exeter University found the genetic fault, carried by 250,000 in the UK, is far more dangerous than thought.

Long-distance runner Ruth Jones, (left) experienced aches and pains before she was diagnosed with haemochromatosis, while Andy McLennan (right) had to quit drinking

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Studies published last night in the British Medical Journal and Journals of Gerontology reveal that haemochromatosis quadruples the risk of liver disease and doubles the risk of arthritis.

It also causes a higher risk of diabetes and chronic pain.

The researchers found that in men, who are at twice the risk of women, haemochromatosis was responsible for 1.6 per cent of hip replacements and 5.8 per cent of liver cancers.

The condition is caused when people have two particular faulty genes. If both parents are carriers it can be passed on to their children.

Haemochromatosis is the most common genetic disorder in the Western world, and is particularly associated with those of Celtic descent.

In Ireland it is known as the ‘Celtic curse’.

Crucially, however, there is a simple treatment if the condition is properly diagnosed. Removing blood allows iron levels to drop to safe levels.

At first doctors take a pint every week – but once iron levels have stabilised patients only need to give blood four times a year.

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