What is a G6PD deficiency and how is it treated?

Written by: Top Doctors®
Edited by: Top Doctors®

G6PD deficiency is a condition which causes the body to lack the enzyme glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD), which helps red blood cells function normally. This deficiency can cause anaemia, usually after exposure to certain medications, foods, or even infections.

Understanding metabolism - why it relates to a G6PD deficiency

Metabolism is like the operating system of a computer. It is made up of chemical reactions occurring in the body that behave like computer programmes. Applications send messages, improve photographs and carry out mathematical calculations - similarly, chemical reactions in the body adjust temperature, send messages to neurons, or release glucose into the blood when the “battery” is low.

Every animal has their own metabolism, just as every model of computer has their own operating system. This is why humans cannot dissolve cellulose, while other animals, such as cows, can. These metabolic reactions that are unique to each species of animal are stored in the cells' hard drive, or the genes.

However, just as sometimes a flash drive may be defective or produce an error message when downloading information, some people do not have the gene that makes the protein (known as an enzyme) capable of controlling a particular chemical reaction. This leads to what some people call congenital illnesses

Among these deficiencies are some lactose intolerances, the inability to digest alcohol, illnesses involving build-up of iron (hemocromatosis) or copper (Wilson) and glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency (G6PD deficiency), sometimes known as favism.

What causes a G6PD deficiency?

Haemoglobin in red blood cells transports oxygen, and it would break down if it weren't for a substance called G6PD. This substance prevents the haemoglobin from becoming oxidised by the oxygen it is transporting. A G6PD deficiency causes the haemoglobin to oxidise and break down causing anaemia. There are foods and medications that are particularly oxidising, such as aspirin or soya beans, which can trigger severe anaemia. The breakdown of the red globules releases bilirubin, a yellow compound that fills the blood causing yellowing of the skin and eyes. For this reason, many patients confuse a G6PD deficiency with acute hepatitis, so doctors must remember to check for this.

How is a G6PD deficiency treated?

This illness disappears on its own, normally quite quickly, once the patient ceases to be exposed to particular foods. As well as aspirin and soya beans, they should avoid inhaling pollen, drinking milk from goats fed with soya beans and other pharmaceutical products that may contain soya.


By Topdoctors

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