(LOS ANGELES) -- Ginger Crowley, a flame-haired Irish-American, says something called the Celtic Curse stands between her and raising a pint of Guinness this St. Patrick's Day.
Last year, as others celebrated the holiday, Crowley learned she had triple the normal amount of iron in her blood, a likely result of hereditary hemochromatosis.
The common genetic disorder, also called iron overload, affects about 1 million Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most often those of Northern European, particularly Irish, descent. Excess iron buildup can damage organs, especially the liver, which has put alcohol off-limits.
"It's pretty bizarre that… a people who should never drink celebrate a saint's day by drinking," said Crowley, a petite redhead in her 50s. "It does a trip on one's head to be told that you have a genetic blood disorder that could kill you."
On March 17, 2011, as Crowley awaited results of a confirmatory genetic test, she and her longtime boyfriend spent the day reading about hemachromatosis. Not only could she not drink anymore, she also would have to give up raw fish, especially shellfish. And no more iron-fortified foods -- Crowley switched to unfortified pastas made in Italy.
She would also have to stop eating food cooked on iron skillets or grills, and avoid vitamin C supplements.
The Los Angeles-based media consultant, former journalist and actress felt relieved to have an explanation for over two years of unexplained fatigue, heart palpitations and blood pressure spikes that gynecologists, cardiologists and others had misdiagnosed as symptoms of menopause, depression and hypertension.
But she also was terrified to learn that people with hemochromatosis "get liver cancer, that they die of cirrhosis and claim they hadn't been heavy drinkers or drinkers at all," she said in an interview Thursday.
"That's the kicker: that you can die of a sudden heart attack. I see Irish names now of people that pass away without any seeming cause, and I go 'bingo,'" Crowley said.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio