Category: Archive

Blood ties

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

But with that same blood, because of a so-called “Celtic gene,” people of Irish ancestry are much more likely than any other group in the world to suffer from a potentially fatal disorder called hemochromatosis, which is a condition where there is too much iron in the blood.
It’s estimated that one in five Irish people carry this gene and one in 86 will go on to develop hemochromatosis.
It’s associated with both men and women over 40, and its symptoms include excessive tiredness, male impotence, liver enlargement, arthritis in the hands, and tanning easily.
Researchers at Dublin’s Mater Hospital’s liver unit first identified the strong link between the Celtic gene and the inherited disorder.
Nobody is sure about why or when the Celtic gene suddenly developed or mutated but researchers at the hospital believe it happened 50 generations ago about 900 AD.
Professor John Crowe from the Mater’s Liver Unit said the spread of hemochromatosis “around the world is associated with the Irish diaspora. So, the highest frequencies [outside Ireland] are found in Eastern Australia, Eastern United States, in Great Britain and then to a lesser extent in Scandinavia, Northern Spain and Northern Italy.”
Elizabeth Cronin, from South Dublin, found out she had Hemochromatosis after she went to her doctor complaining of constant exhaustion and a pain in her liver area.
Blood test results showed she had too much iron.
Like other sufferers she gets the excess iron out of their system by blood letting, removing the blood from her body.
“I go in on a two-weekly basis to hospital. My iron levels are beginning to decrease and now I’m feeling more energetic. I’m going back to the things I used to enjoy, like walking and playing a bit of tennis.”
Doctors say the condition can be fatal, particularly if too much iron builds up around the heart. But in the overwhelming majority of cases it is treatable with blood-letting, though the earlier it’s spotted the better.
Medics also dismiss the notion that the historic Irish fondness for iron-rich cabbage and Guinness are related to the complaint. They say diet is not a factor in having the disorder.
Unlike parts of the United States, the Irish Blood Transfusion Service does not accept what is normally healthy blood from hemochromatosis sufferers.
The service believes blood should be given altruistically — because people want to — and not because they have to, or for any other reason.
The ITBS’s National Medical Director, Dr William Murphy, said that policy is in the process of changing.
“We will continue to accept donations from people who have hemochromatosis but who were donors before they learned they had the condition. We’re also planning to introduce clinics where people with hemochromatosis can come along and give donations in a way that addresses our particular concerns.”
With doctors becoming increasingly aware of the condition they recommend that anyone who has symptoms, such as tiredness or arthritis in the hand, should get a blood test.
After all it may not be the fault of your life-style and you can always blame it on the ancestors — on the great, great, great, great (I think you get the picture) … great grandparents.

Shane Harrison is Dublin correspondent for the BBC.

Other Articles You Might Like

Sign up to our Daily Newsletter

Click to access the login or register cheese