What Causes It?
Deposits of calcium pyrophosphate dihydrate crystals in a joint, which weaken the cartilage and cause it to break down more easily. The presence of these tiny CPPD crystals in the joints, and the body's reaction to these crystals, creates often agonizing inflammation as ‘A’ cells rush to attack the crystals. A fruitless exercise, as the crystals are indestructible, and, during one of the attempted ‘A’ cell rescue operations, they lose the battle — causing the patient’s immune system to be temporarily compromised, as a result.
Often dismissed as arthritis, Calcium Pyrophosphate Dihydrate Crystal Deposition Disease (CPDCDD) has been reported by many homozygous people (those carrying two HH genes) as having been the presenting symptom of the onset of hemochromatosis. Over the years I have learned, however, that that it is also possible for heterozygotes' (carriers of only one gene) to be afflicted. I have known some with knees so swollen that the fluid has had to be aspirated. Physicians do not readily prescribe oral cortisone for the treatment of CPDCDD, but, from my own experience, I can tell you that an injection into an afflicted joint can work wonders!
To recap: The agony of both conditions is due to crystal-induced inflammation, but whereas real gout is caused by uric acid, Chondrocalcinosis — known as "pseudo-gout" and sometimes "acute arthritis" — is caused by deposits of Calcium Pyrophosphate Dihydrate Crystals. If the "pyro” part of this conjures up fireworks, it is justified! Pseudo Gout — nearly as common as the other form — also causes excruciating pain during a flare-up.
Can People Die of Untreated HH?
Sadly, yes. The common causes of death from HH — sometimes also listed as HHC or IHC — are cardiac failure, arrhythmia (irregularity in the beating of the heart), hepatic (liver) failure, hepatoma (tumour of the liver) or other malignancy, or the complications of diabetes. Before the advent of insulin, diabetes topped the list. Formerly, when the diagnosis was made clinically, cirrhosis and skin pigmentation were almost always present; often accompanied by diabetes mellitus, hypogonadism (diminished sexual function), arthritis and cardiac failure. Today the picture is changing, as diagnostic methods improve.