Cardiac iron deposition in idiopathic hemochromatosis: Histologic and analytic assessment of 14 hearts from autopsy

Lyle J. Olson, William D. Edwards, John T. McCall, Duane M. Ilstrup, Bernard J. Gersh

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137 Scopus citations


In each heart taken from autopsies of 14 men with idiopathic hemochromatosis, the conduction system, atria and 10 sites in the ventricles were histologically graded for stainable iron. Stainable iron was exclusively sarcoplasmic; none was observed in the interstitium. The histologic grade for the same anatomic site varied among hearts and among different anatomic sites in the same heart. Ten hearts had stainable iron in all ventricular sites; one of the three hearts from patients who had undergone therapeutic phlebotomy had no iron at any site. Seven hearts had iron in the atria but at a lesser grade than that found in the ventricles; six hearts had mild focal iron deposition in the atrioventricular conduction system. None of the 14 hearts had stainable iron in the sinus node. Elemental iron was quantitated by atomic absorption spectroscopy in ventricular specimens contiguous to those studied histologically and also in age-matched control hearts. Elemental iron content was markedly increased in hearts with idiopathic hemochromatosis compared with control hearts (p < 0.01). The quantity of elemental iron varied greatly, similar to stainable iron, but was highest subepicardially. Among the hearts from the 11 patients without prior phlebotomy, three had no stainable iron in the right ventricular septal subendocardium, suggesting that sampling error may be a problem in the evaluation of hemochromatosis by endomyocardial biopsy. The sarcoplasmic location of the iron indicates that cardiac involvement in idiopathic hemochromatosis represents a storage disease and not an infiltrative process; this finding is consistent with the normal ventricular wall thicknesses observed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1239-1243
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of the American College of Cardiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1987

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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