Americans trust their family doctor.
But, doctors are letting us down in the case of hereditary hemochromatosis (H.H.), which causes retention of too much iron and can be fatal.
Contributing to the problem is the U.S. Preventive Health Task Force, which says that testing to prevent H.H. is not cost effective. This is the same task force that wants women to wait longer to have mammograms.
Emphasis on cost in our for-profit, insurance driven system means many family doctors don’t test for H.H. unless the patient reports a family history. The problem is that you could have a family history and not know. One in every 250 persons has the disorder, which initially might cause malaise and joint pain.
The preferred treatment is therapeutic bleeds to remove the excess iron. H.H. is easily treatable and still doctors aren’t testing for it.
Our family doctors should begin ordering iron panels such as serum ferritin, serum iron and total iron binding capacity. If the results indicate a problem, there is a more extensive genetic test to confirm the disorder. A ferritin test costs about $30.
Doctors can order these tests along with the complete blood count (CBC) that many of you get at your annual physicals. The hemoglobin reading in a CBC is not enough.
These additional tests would allow doctors to establish a baseline for iron disorder and save lives. Isn’t this what they swore to do and what we expect of them?