None of the methods for assessing total body iron burden in patients with hemochromatosis is satisfactory. Although it is commonly believed that a relationship exists between serum ferritin levels and total iron burden, the extent of this relationship has not previously been documented. In the present investigation we measured the total body iron burden of 88 patients with putative hemochromatosis, 54 of whom were homozygotes for the 845G→A (C282Y) mutation. The total body iron stores were estimated from the volume of red cells removed during therapeutic phlebotomy corrected for an estimated 2 mg/day dietary iron absorbed during the phlebotomy period; the amount of storage iron was compared to the serum ferritin, serum iron, unsaturated iron binding capacity, and transferrin saturation before the beginning of phlebotomy. The serum ferritin proved to be the best predictor of body iron stores. The correlation between all of the analytes and the body iron burden was greater in patients homozygous for the C282Y mutation than in those who were not, including the compound heterozygotes for C282Y and H63D. The body iron burden tended to be greater in patients homozygous for the C282Y mutation than the other patients at any other given ferritin level. We conclude that the serum ferritin level does provide some information regarding total iron burden but even in the case of C282Y homozygotes, the correlation is not very strong.
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