Screening for iron overload: Lessons from the HEmochromatosis and IRon Overload Screening (HEIRS) study

Paul C. Adams, James C. Barton, Gordon D. McLaren, Ronald T. Acton, Mark Speechley, Christine E. McLaren, David M. Reboussin, Catherine Leiendecker-Foster, Emily L. Harris, Beverly M. Snively, Thomas Vogt, Phyliss Sholinsky, Elizabeth Thomson, Fitzroy W. Dawkins, Victor R. Gordeuk, John H. Eckfeldt

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: The HEmochromatosis and IRon Overload Screening (HEIRS) Study provided data on a racially, ethnically and geographically diverse cohort of participants in North America screened from primary care populations. METHODS: A total of 101,168 participants were screened by testing for HFE C282Y and H63D mutations, and measuring serum ferritin concentration and transferrin saturation. In the present review, lessons from the HEIRS Study are highlighted in the context of the principles of screening for a medical disease as previously outlined by the World Health Organization. RESULTS: Genetic testing is well accepted, with minimal risk of discrimination. Transferrin saturation has high biological variability and relatively low sensitivity to detect HFE C282Y homozygotes, which limits its role as a screening test. Symptoms attributable to HFE C282Y homozygosity are no more common in individuals identified by population screening than in control subjects. CONCLUSIONS: Generalized population screening in a primary care population as performed in the HEIRS Study is not recommended. There may be a role for focused screening in Caucasian men, with some debate regarding genotyping followed by phenotyping, or phenotyping followed by genotyping.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)769-772
Number of pages4
JournalCanadian Journal of Gastroenterology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2009


  • HFE
  • Haemochromatosis
  • Hemochromatosis
  • Iron overload


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