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G6PD Deficiency

What is G6PD deficiency?

G6PD deficiency is an inherited condition. It is when the body doesn’t have enough of an enzyme called G6PD (glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase). This enzyme helps red blood cells work properly. A lack of this enzyme can cause hemolytic anemia. This is when the red blood cells break down faster than they are made.

What causes G6PD deficiency?

G6PD deficiency is inherited. This means it is passed down from parents through their genes.

Women who carry one copy of the gene can pass G6PD deficiency to their children.

  • Men who get the gene have G6PD deficiency.
  • Women who get the gene are carriers. They often don’t have symptoms. But they can pass the gene onto their children.

Who is at risk for G6PD deficiency?

G6PD deficiency occurs most often in men. It is rare in women.

The disorder affects about 10% of African-American men in the U.S. It is also common in people from the Mediterranean area, Africa, or Asia.

The severity of the disorder varies, depending on the group. In African-Americans, the problem is mild. It mainly affects older red blood cells. In whites, the disorder is often more serious. In this group, young red blood cells are affected.

What are the symptoms of hemolytic anemia?

G6PD can cause hemolytic anemia. This is when the red blood cells break down faster than they are made. Symptoms of hemolytic anemia include:

  • Pale skin
  • Yellowing of the skin, eyes, and mouth (jaundice)
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Fever
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Trouble with physical activity
  • Enlarged spleen and liver
  • Increased heart rate
  • Heart murmur

The symptoms of hemolytic anemia may look like other health problems. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is G6PD deficiency diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider can diagnose G6PD deficiency with a simple blood test. You may need this test if:

  • Your family comes from an area where this condition is common
  • You have a family history of G6PD deficiency
  • You have an unknown form of anemia

Your provider may repeat tests to make an accurate diagnosis.

How is G6PD deficiency treated?

In most cases, G6PD deficiency does not cause problems. Problems may occur if you are exposed to medicines or foods that may harm your blood cells. Depending on your gene flaw, you may be able to handle a small amount of these exposures.

Your healthcare provider will figure out the best treatment based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history
  • How sick you are
  • How well you can handle certain medicines, procedures, or therapies
  • How long the condition is expected to last
  • Your opinion or preference

Treatment may include:

  • Avoiding certain medicines, foods, and environmental exposures
  • Telling your providers that you have G6PD deficiency
  • Checking with your provider before taking any medicine

Living with G6PD deficiency

If you have this condition, you will need to avoid things that can trigger hemolytic anemia. These include:

  • Aspirin, and products that have aspirin
  • Certain antibiotics
  • Fava beans
  • Moth balls

Key points about G6PD deficiency

  • G6PD deficiency is the lack of an enzyme (glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase) in the blood.
  • It is a genetic health problem that is most often inherited by men. Women do not usually get it. But they can be carriers and pass it to their children.
  • It can cause hemolytic anemia. This is when the red blood cells break down faster than the body can make them.
  • It affects about 10% of African-American men in the U.S. It is also common in people from the Mediterranean area, Africa, or Asia.
  • Treatment includes avoiding certain medicines, foods, and environmental exposures.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.
  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.
  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.
  • Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
  • Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.

Medical Reviewers:

  • Finke, Amy, RN, BSN
  • Gersten, Todd, MD