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Alternative Names Return to topAbnormality of the urea cycle - hereditary; Urea cycle - hereditary abnormality
Definition Return to top
Hereditary urea cycle abnormality is an inherited condition that can cause problems with the removal of waste from the body in the urine.
Causes Return to top
The urea cycle is a process in which waste (ammonia) is removed from the body. When you eat proteins, the body breaks them down into amino acids. Leftover amino acids turn into ammonia and must be removed from the body. The liver produces several chemicals (enzymes) that change ammonia into a form called urea, which the body can remove in the urine. If this process is disturbed, ammonia levels begin to rise.
Several inherited conditions can cause problems with this waste-removal process. People with a urea cycle disorder are missing a gene that makes the enzymes needed to break down ammonia in the body.
These diseases include:
As a group, these disorders occur in 1 in 30,000 newborns. Ornithine transcarbamylase deficiency is the most common of these disorders.
Boys are more often affected by ornithine transcarbamylase deficiency than are girls. Girls are rarely affected, and those who are have milder symptoms and the disease begins later in life.
To get the other types of disorders, you need to get abnormal copies of the gene from both parents. Sometimes parents don't know they carry the gene until their child gets the disorder.
Symptoms Return to top
Typically, the baby begins nursing well and seems normal. However, over time the baby develops poor feeding, vomiting, and sleepiness which may be so deep that the baby is difficult to awaken. This usually occurs within the first week after birth.
Exams and Tests Return to top
The doctor will often diagnose these disorders when the child is still an infant.
Signs may include:
Tests may include:
Treatment Return to top
Limiting protein in the diet can help treat these disorders by reducing the amount of nitrogen wastes the body produces. Special low-protein infant and toddler formulas are available.
It is important that a health care provider guide protein intake. The health care provider can balance the amount of protein so that the baby has enough to grow, but not enough to cause symptoms.
It is extremely important for people with these disorders to avoid fasting.
People with urea cycle abnormalities must also be very careful under times of stress, such as when they have infections. Stress, such as a fever, can cause the body to break down its own proteins. These extra proteins can make it difficult for the abnormal urea cycle to remove the byproducts.
Develop a plan with your doctor for when you are sick to avoid all protein, drink high carbohydrate drinks, and get enough fluids.
Most patients with urea cycle disorders will need to stay in the hospital at some point. During such times, they may be treated with medicines that help the body remove nitrogen-containing wastes. Dialysis may help rid the body of excess ammonia during extreme illness.
Support Groups Return to top
National Urea Cycle Disorders Forum -- www.nucdf.org
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
How well patients do depends on:
Babies diagnosed in the first week of life and put on a protein-restricted diet right away do well.
Sticking to the diet can lead to normal adult intelligence. Repeatedly not following the diet or having stress-induced symptoms can lead to brain swelling and brain damage.
Major stresses, such as surgery or accidents, can be complicated for these patients. Extreme care is needed to avoid problems during such periods.
Possible Complications Return to top
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
If your child has a test that shows increased ammonia in the blood, have the child examined by a genetic or metabolic specialist. If there is a family history of urea cycle disorder, seek genetic counseling before trying to get pregnant.
A dietician is important to help plan and update a protein-restricted diet as the child grows.
Prevention Return to top
As with most inherited diseases, there is no way to prevent these disorders. Prenatal testing is available. Genetic testing before an embryo is implanted may be available for those using in vitro fertilization.
Teamwork between parents, the affected child, and doctors can help prevent severe illness.Update Date: 2/5/2008 Updated by: Chad Haldeman-Englert, MD, Division of Human Genetics, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.