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New links found between an 'iron' gene mutation and increased risk for heart attack and stroke

DALLAS, Sept. 21 -- More evidence has been found linking a condition called hemochromatosis, a disorder that allows too much iron to be absorbed from food, to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

In today's Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, two independent research teams found that people with an iron-regulating mutation (a defect) had a much higher risk of having and dying from a heart attack. The research builds on earlier studies that have shown that individuals with elevated levels of iron are at higher risk for heart disease. The explanation for this association is not known.

Hemochromatosis is an inherited disease in which individuals absorb too much iron in the liver and other organs of the body, such as the heart or pancreas, and die from liver cirrhosis, liver cancer and heart failure. The mutation for the most common form of hemochromatosis was identified in 1996. The disease occurs in individuals who have inherited two mutated copies, one from each parent, of the hemochromatosis gene. The new research examines whether individuals who have only one mutated gene, and are called "hemochromatosis carriers," are at increased risk for heart disease and stroke.

A new genetic test that is now available offers scientists a more precise method for determining if carriers of the gene mutation are at increased risk for heart disease. Researchers needed a genetic test to study carriers of the gene. Carriers often have a small elevation in their iron storage levels that may be responsible for the observed increase in heart attacks. Carriers are rarely aware of their status and usually have no symptoms until a heart attack or stroke occurs.

In an accompanying editorial, Jerome L. Sullivan, M.D., Ph.D., clinical assistant professor at the University of Florida in Gainesville, writes that these authors "present landmark studies" on the link between iron and coronary heart disease.

Still, he emphasizes that "m
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Contact: Carole Bullock
caroleb@heart.org
214-706-1279
American Heart Association
20-Sep-1999


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