New St Patrick’s Day Tradition: Ferritin Checks Save Lives!

by Stephen Cobb on March 16, 2014

Here is a modest proposal to save lives on St. Patrick’s Day: Get your ferritin checked! This is a simple blood test to let you know how your body is handling iron. If your ferritin is “high” then your body may be loading iron, which can cause serious damage to joints, liver, heart, brain, and endocrine system. The leading cause of this “iron overload” is hereditary hemochromatosis, the classic form of which is present in 1 out of every 83 people in Ireland and 1 in every 200 people of Northern European descent around the world.

If you are Irish, part-Irish, or “Celtic” in the broadest sense of the word, then you should know what your ferritin level is. If hemochromatosis is discovered early enough you can adjust your diet and lifestyle to avoid serious complications such as those chronicled here.

If you have access to your medical records, why not look and see if your ferritin level has been measured. A healthy range for ferritin is 25-150ng/mL. Sadly, the ferritin test is not always included in the routine blood tests you get for an annual physical and so you will need to ask your doctor to order it. Tell your doctor you think you have Celtic genes and, if you have any of the symptoms listed here, let him or her know as this will help the back office select the right billing codes. A family history that includes diabetes, liver disease, or heart problems, is also potential risk factor.

If St Patrick’s Day became “Check Your Ferritin Day” we could save hundreds of thousands of people from suffering the prolonged effects of iron overload, which can cause death. Ferritin tests are cheap, and so is the treatment: you give blood until the level is lowered (in most cases serum ferritin will drop by about 30ng/mL with each unit of blood removed).

And there’s even a pot of gold to be had. Besides the pain and suffering we would prevent, think of the hundreds of millions of dollars in healthcare savings every year from preventing the preventable cases of iron-exacerbated cancers, diabetes, liver and heart disease, and joint replacements. It’s great to be Irish. It’s even greater to know that your ferritin level is under control.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Marguerite Smith November 28, 2014 at 6:08 am

As an Irish Haemochromatosis sufferer living in the UK, I have for the past 6 years been raising awareness by giving a Power Point Presentation to some hospitals and the public in general on the condition. If the world too9m your idea on board and made “Paddy’s Day” “Check Your Ferritin Day” you would probably be amazed at how many people might actually do it, so why not promote it through the various “Heamochromatosis Organisations throughout the world. There are Irish and other “Celts” everywhere .

Keep me posted

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louise m. hisman March 8, 2015 at 8:22 am

My son Rich Claar has hemochromatosis. We just discovered it 4years,ago when he was in his,forties

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Kathy April 9, 2015 at 11:03 pm

Unfortunately Dr’s look at you like you know nothing, so they peer down their nose as such. I have mentioned it a time or two in the U.S. and in the U.K. It seems it us that know nothing! When suffering. Thankfully the one Doctor brought this to my attention in the U.S. So little is known or broadcasted . I need to know I suffer and need to inform my family. Please contact me. I lost 75 pounds in 6 months.. No diet. I still have problems with weight. I may gain a few pounds and then I lose a few more usually a bit more than i gained.

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Kathy April 10, 2015 at 2:59 am

Please if you would keep me up to date on Hemochromatosis. I have it and have just learned thanks to a Dr who looked beyond his nose in the U.S. I wish to learn promptly so that I may educate my family. I lost 75 pounds in 6 months without trying in any sort.

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