New St Patrick's Day Tradition: Save lives! (with blood tests for iron overload, due to Celtic Curse)

Photo by Michal Osmenda via Wikipedia, Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) Cropped.
Photo by Michal Osmenda
Here is a modest proposal to save lives on St. Patrick's Day, and for years to come: 


Why? Because too much iron in your body can cause serious damage to joints, liver, heart, brain, and endocrine system. And the leading cause of this "iron overload" is hereditary hemochromatosis, a genetic condition so closely linked to Ireland it is often referred to as Celtic Curse.

The classic form of genetic haemochromatosis, which is the Irish-English spelling, is present in 1 out of every 83 people in Ireland and around 1 in every 200 white people of Northern European descent around the world. Note that it can also be present in people who don't self-identify as white. (See WebMD for more on ferritin tests and NEJM for prevalence.)

If you are Irish, part-Irish, or "Celtic" in the broadest sense of the word, then you should know your ferritin level. Why? Because, if hemochromatosis is discovered early enough you can adjust your diet and lifestyle to avoid serious complications such as those chronicled here. (Here's a more detailed account of symptoms, but don't get be confused by the title of the site: hemochromatosis is not that rare).

If you have access to your medical records, why not look and see if your iron levels have been measured. The key item to look for is "ferritin," which comes from ferrous, as in "contains iron" (nothing to do with whether your ferritin is home, if you have one).

A healthy range for ferritin is 25-150ng/mL. Sadly, the ferritin test is not always included in the routine blood tests you get for an annual physical, so you may need to ask your doctor to order it. (The test is not an expensive one for healthcare providers.)

To encourage your doctor to order the test, let them know you have Irish ancestry. In addition, be sure to let them know if you have any of the symptoms listed in the links above. A family history that includes diabetes, liver disease, or heart problems, is also potential risk factor that will prompt/persuade your doctor to order the test. (Depending on where you live, you may able to order an at home iron/ferritin test yourself; this should check Iron, Total Iron-Binding Capacity (TIBC), Ferritin, and Transferrin Saturation.)

If we can make St Patrick's Day the international "Check Your Iron Day," then we could save hundreds of thousands of people from suffering the prolonged effects of iron overload. Ferritin tests are cheap, and so is the treatment: you give blood until the level is lowered (in most cases serum ferritin will drop by about 30ng/mL with each unit of blood removed).

And there's even a pot of gold to be had. Besides the pain and suffering we would prevent, think of the hundreds of millions of dollars in healthcare savings every year from preventing the preventable cases of iron-exacerbated cancers, diabetes, liver and heart disease, and joint replacements. 

It's great to be Irish. It's even greater to know that your ferritin level is under control.

Note: Photo of Irish flag by Michal Osmenda via Wikipedia, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License (CC BY-SA 2.0) Cropped. Shamrock image from Wikipedia. 


  1. As an Irish Haemochromatosis sufferer living in the UK, I have for the past 6 years been raising awareness by giving a Power Point Presentation to some hospitals and the public in general on the condition. If the world too9m your idea on board and made "Paddy's Day" "Check Your Ferritin Day" you would probably be amazed at how many people might actually do it, so why not promote it through the various "Heamochromatosis Organisations throughout the world. There are Irish and other "Celts" everywhere .

    Keep me posted

  2. My son Rich Claar has hemochromatosis. We just discovered it 4years,ago when he was in his,forties

  3. Unfortunately Dr's look at you like you know nothing, so they peer down their nose as such. I have mentioned it a time or two in the U.S. and in the U.K. It seems it us that know nothing! When suffering. Thankfully the one Doctor brought this to my attention in the U.S. So little is known or broadcasted . I need to know I suffer and need to inform my family. Please contact me. I lost 75 pounds in 6 months.. No diet. I still have problems with weight. I may gain a few pounds and then I lose a few more usually a bit more than i gained.

  4. Please if you would keep me up to date on Hemochromatosis. I have it and have just learned thanks to a Dr who looked beyond his nose in the U.S. I wish to learn promptly so that I may educate my family. I lost 75 pounds in 6 months without trying in any sort.

  5. We have a lot of mosquito in our area. Please suegsgt some anti mosquito spray and chemical for domestic use to get rid of them. I shall be very thankful to you. I think your next post must be about the cure of the diseases caused by mosquitoes.


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