THE genetic disorder Haemochromatosis, if left untreated, can cause serious illness such as liver failure, diabetes and severe arthritis.

It had been previously believed the condition, which doctors have labelled a 'stealth disease', affected about one in 100 carriers.

However new research by Exeter University has found the genetic condition actually affects around one in 10 among women, and one in five male carriers.

Calls have now been made for improved screening to detect the condition which is often not identified until later in life.

The four signs you may be suffering from haemochromatosis are:

  • persistent fatigue;
  • weight loss;
  • weakness;
  • and joint pain

The NHS advises those who are persistently affected by the above symptoms, or those who have parents or siblings with haemochromatosis to talk to their GP.

Lead researcher on the study,  Professor David Melzer, from the Universities of Exeter, hopes the results will lead to improved screening for the condition, which if detected early enough can be easily treated.

He said: “We’ve shown that hereditary haemochromatosis is actually a much more common and stealth disease, including in older people.

“We now need to test ways of screening and diagnosing haemochromatosis earlier.”

Haemochromatosis is linked to a faulty gene passed from both parents to their child.

It causes people to absorb too much iron from their diet which accumulates around the body over time, damaging many organs and eventually causing disease.

The condition is twice as likely to be serious in men, according to researchers, as women have partial protection until later in life because they lose iron through menstruation and having children, although some younger women do develop the disease.

The study has been welcomed by Public Health England (PHE).

Professor Debra Lapthorne, of PHE said: “We really welcome this study and think the work will be clinically very important as the results could have implications for clinical practice and help us find people much earlier, before significant damage is done.

“This work shows the real benefit to the population of linking academic research to policy and clinical practice.”