UW News

August 12, 1998

UW Medical Center opens Iron Overload Clinic

Q: What is the most common hereditary condition in the United States?

A: Hemochromatosis — iron overload syndrome

Its symptoms may go unnoticed for years. Left untreated, it can be deadly. Hemochromatosis — also called iron overload syndrome — is the most common genetic disease in the United States, affecting approximately 1 in 300 people. If caught at an early stage, patients with hemochromatosis can live a normal, healthy life.

A new clinic to help identify and treat hemochromatosis has opened at University of Washington Medical Center. The UW Medical Center Iron Overload Clinic is staffed by a multidisciplinary team of clinicians to offer services that include genetic testing for the recently-identified hemochromatosis gene and genetic counseling for patients and their affected families.

“Hemochromatosis is a prevalent but often unrecognized health problem,” notes Dr. Kris Kowdley, clinic director. “With the use of a simple screening test, it’s possible to identify the condition and help people live a healthy life.”

Hemochromatosis is linked to excessive absorption of dietary iron. These iron stores in the body can then lead to a variety of health problems such as cirrhosis of the liver, diabetes and heart failure.

The clinic will see patients with all types of iron overload disorders, with specialists in gastroenterology, hematology, medical genetics, pathology and laboratory medicine providing a full range of services.

In most cases, patients will only need to visit the clinic once or twice for diagnosis of the condition and development of a treatment plan. Patients are then referred back to their primary care physician for further management and ongoing care. The clinic is also available for consultation regarding a patient’s treatment plans.

The College of American Pathologists is calling for increased public and professional awareness of hemochromatosis and recommends that all adults over age 20 be screened for the condition.

To reach the UW Medical Center Iron Overload Clinic, call (206) 598-3339.