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Abstract

Objective

To determine the frequency and character of arthropathy in hereditary hemochromatosis (HH) and to investigate the relationship between this arthropathy, nodal interphalangeal osteoarthritis, and iron load.

Methods

Participants were recruited from the community by newspaper advertisement and assigned to diagnostic confidence categories for HH (definite/probable or possible/unlikely). Arthropathy was determined by use of a predetermined clinical protocol, radiographs of the hands of all participants, and radiographs of other joints in which clinical criteria were met.

Results

An arthropathy considered typical for HH, involving metacarpophalangeal joints 2–5 and bilateral specified large joints, was observed in 10 of 41 patients with definite or probable HH (24%), all of whom were homozygous for the C282Y mutation in the HFE gene, while only 2 of 62 patients with possible/unlikely HH had such an arthropathy (P = 0.0024). Arthropathy in definite/probable HH was more common with increasing age and was associated with ferritin concentrations >1,000 μg/liter at the time of diagnosis (odds ratio 14.0 [95% confidence interval 1.30–150.89], P = 0.03). A trend toward more episodes requiring phlebotomy was also observed among those with arthropathy, but this was not statistically significant (odds ratio 1.03 [95% confidence interval 0.99–1.06], P = 0.097). There was no significant association between arthropathy in definite/probable HH and a history of intensive physical labor (P = 0.12).

Conclusion

An arthropathy consistent with that commonly attributed to HH was found to occur in 24% of patients with definite/probable HH. The association observed between this arthropathy, homozygosity for C282Y, and serum ferritin concentrations at the time of diagnosis suggests that iron load is likely to be a major determinant of arthropathy in HH and to be more important than occupational factors.