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Ann Hematol. 2001 Dec;80(12):737-44. Epub 2001 Oct 11.

Clinically overt hereditary hemochromatosis in Denmark 1948-1985: epidemiology, factors of significance for long-term survival, and causes of death in 179 patients.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, Naestved Hospital, 4700 Naestved, Denmark,


The object was to analyze, in a nationwide survey, the incidence and course of hereditary hemochromatosis in relation to the degree of iron overload and the presence of organ damage. The study included 179 Danish Caucasian patients with clinically overt hemochromatosis diagnosed between 1948 and 1985. A cohort of 158 patients was followed for a median of 8.5 years (range: 0.2-29.5). From 1951 to 1975, the yearly relative incidence rate was constant: 0.58/100,000 persons >20 years of age. From 1981 to 1985, the yearly relative incidence rate rose to 1.40/100,000 persons >20 years of age. Survival was reduced in the entire series when compared with a matched control population ( p<0.0001). There was a steady increase in survival from 1948 to 1985 ( p<0.002). Survival was significantly reduced in patients with liver cirrhosis and/or diabetes mellitus ( p<0.01). In contrast, survival in patients without cirrhosis or diabetes was similar to rates expected. Survival in patients with arthropathy was higher than in patients without joint affection ( p<0.004). Patients adequately treated with phlebotomy ( n=66) had a higher survival than inadequately treated patients ( n=62; p<0.0001). Adequately treated patients with cirrhosis and/or diabetes had better survival than inadequately treated patients with similar organ damage ( p<0.001). The main causes of death were hepatic failure due to cirrhosis (32.0%) and cirrhosis with liver cancer (23.1%). Sharpened diagnostic awareness has improved early diagnosis and increased the diagnostic frequency of clinical hemochromatosis. Adequate phlebotomy treatment was the major determinant of survival and markedly improved prognosis. Early detection and treatment of this common iron overload disorder is crucial and can completely prevent any excess mortality caused by hemochromatosis.

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