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Haemochromatosis: the Celtic Disease

Haemochromatosis, sometimes known as the Celtic disease


It is a genetic disorder and the medical term for it is Hereditary Haemochromatosis (HH). The name ‘Celtic Disease’ comes from the fact that it is most commonly found in Celtic Nations – Ireland, Scotland, Isle of Man, Wales, Cornwall and Brittany. 

It will develop only if your mother and father both carry the defective gene. People of Irish heritage are more likely than any other ethnic group to carry the gene that leads to haemochromatosis. 

In Europe as a whole between 1 in 300 and 1 in 400 people have the potential to develop the condition. In Ireland, by contrast, 1 in 83 people have the two genes and are predisposed to develop haemochromatosis. 

One in 5 Irish people are carriers of the gene. Scientists are not sure why the gene is more prevalent among people with Irish heritage but it is thought that the gene mutated 50 generations ago, about 900 AD. 

Haemochromatosis is a disorder which is characterised by iron overload. Iron is essential to all plants, animals and human life. Normally our body controls the amount we need to absorb to remain healthy and secretes the rest. 

If you have the HH gene your body may store too much iron which is deposited in other vital organs such as heart, liver and pancreas. This affects the ability of the organ to function effectively. This absorption and storage of iron happens over a number of years which can then be described as ‘iron overload’.

This is an extract from an Irish in Britain Fact Sheet on Haemochromatosis. You can read and download it here.