Hemochromatosis, or iron overload, is linked to a significantly increased risk of joint problems necessitating replacement surgery, according to a new study cited by Arthritis Today.
This genetic disorder in which too much iron is absorbed into the body, causing pain and damage of the joints, is now found to triple the risk of needing hip replacement surgery. It also doubles the risk of requiring knee replacement surgery.
The changes in the joint seen in genetic hemochromatosis (GH) resemble those in osteoarthritis and may lead to limited joint function necessitating joint replacement surgery, study co-author Maria Elmberg from the Swedish Karolinska Institute said.
As GH is a genetic disorder, the new study, which was recently published online in Arthritis Care and Research, also sought evidence of whether close family members of people with GH were exposed to higher risk of joint problems.
Hemochromatosis usually occurs when there are mutations in the HFE gene. People inherit two copies of the HFE gene, one from their mother and one from their father. When one copy of the gene mutates, the person is a carrier but generally doesn’t develop hemochromatosis. But when a person inherits two defected copies of the gene they may develop hemochromatosis, which leads to joint pain and damage and other life-threatening complications.
It is estimated that 6% to 20% of people of Northern and Western European origin carry a mutation in one copy of the gene. Immediate relatives of hemochromatosis patients are believed to carry one copy of the mutation.
The researchers collected data from national health registers to identify over 3,500 hemochromatosis patients and then analysed data from almost 12,000 immediate relatives of the patients to see if a single copy of the gene mutation raises the risk of arthritis problems. The subjects were then matched against a control sample of the general population.
The researchers found that hemochromatosis patients were at higher risk of serious joint damage, requiring hip, knee and even ankle replacement surgery. However, there seemed to be no elevated risk of diseased joints among parents, siblings and children of hemochromatosis patients.