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Showing posts from June, 2011

Cirrhosis, Alcohol, Ignorance and Prejudice: Welcome to the dark world of hereditary hemochromatosis

Imagine the shock of getting a call from the intensive care unit of your local hospital telling you that your brother has been admitted. The doctor says your brother is delirious and combative and "in the throes of advanced alcoholism." Furthermore, he has cirrhosis of the liver, internal bleeding, and ketoacidosis—a medical emergency in which a shortage of insulin can lead to coma or death—from newly diagnosed diabetes.

If you've never thought of your brother as an alcoholic such a call could be both shocking and disturbing. Of course, the story gets even more worrying if your brother turns out not to be an alcoholic. But such is the story told in this excellent Washington Post article about an almost fatal failure to diagnose hemochromatosis.

Several things struck me when I read this article, in addition to feeling terrible for Jeff Williams, the subject of the story, and his family, who are now living in the shadow of hemochromatosis. For one thing there is an amazing c…