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What Is G6PD Deficiency And Why Does It Cause Anemia?

What Is G6PD Deficiency And Why Does It Cause Anemia?

G6PD deficiency is an inherited condition that predisposes a person or child to develop anemia. Mild symptoms often do not need medical treatment. However, severe symptoms can require hospital care. What causes G6PD deficiency, and how do you treat it? The answers and more in this article.

What is G6PD?

G6PD stands for glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase. It is a type of enzyme that helps red blood cells perform their function of delivering oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.

When a person has G6PD deficiency, it means they don’t have enough of the enzyme or the enzymes their body produces are defective.

Since there’s not enough G6PD or they don’t work, the red blood cells break apart. This process is called hemolysis, and it commonly causes hemolytic anemia when many RBCs break apart. Note that the red blood cells of people with G6PD deficiency are sensitive to some foods, medicines, and infections. This can result in massive loss of RBCs, leading to hemolytic crisis.

What Causes G6PD Deficiency?

G6PD is an inherited condition as it is genetic. Reports say it is much more common in men than women.

Note that the severity of the disorder usually depends on the group. Some people (African-Americans) may have the mild disease where only the older RBCs are affected. However, some groups (Caucasians) may develop the severe kind where young RBCs are affected.

Signs and Symptoms

Not everyone who has G6PD deficiency will develop symptoms, especially if they have a mild case.

If they develop hemolytic anemia, however, they might experience the following:

  • Pale skin
  • Jaundice or yellowing of the skin and sclera (white of the eyes)
  • Fever
  • Weakness
  • Dark urine
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Trouble with physical activity
  • Increased heart rate
  • Heart murmur
  • Enlarged spleen or liver

Mild symptoms may not require medical treatment because the condition will improve as the body makes more red blood cells.

What Triggers Hemolytic Anemia?

Note that patients with G6PD deficiency don’t always experience hemolytic anemia or crisis. It usually occurs when they encounter triggers.

The following may trigger hemolytic anemia or hemolytic crisis:

  • Illnesses or infections
  • Some painkillers, fever reducers, and antibiotics
  • Foods, such as beans
  • Chemicals, like naphthalene, which you typically find in mothballs

Important

Rarely, G6PD deficiency may also lead to chronic anemia. In these cases, anemia occurs regardless of the trigger.

Diagnosis

A simple blood test can determine if a child has G6PD deficiency. However, they don’t typically go for testing until they develop symptoms.

Parents can talk to their child’s doctor about G6PD deficiency diagnosis if their child:

  • Comes from a family where the condition is common
  • Has unexplained anemia
  • Comes from a family who lives in an area where the condition is common.

Treatment

According to experts, G6PD deficiency does not often cause problems unless the child gets exposed to triggers that cause severe anemia or hemolytic crisis.

In those cases, the best treatment is to eliminate the trigger. That means treating the infection or stopping the consumption of the drugs. Some children may also require hospital care to get more fluids or oxygen. Depending on the severity of the case, they might also require blood transfusion.

What Can Parents Do

Since problems usually arise when a child has exposure to triggers, it’s best to avoid them. Talk to your child’s doctor about the foods and medicines that might cause a problem.

Of course, it will also help to strengthen your child’s immune system so as to protect them from infections that might trigger anemia. Be mindful of their diet, physical activity, vaccines, and routine checkups.

With care, G6PD deficiency should not stop your little one from having a healthy, happy life.

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Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. Updated 4 weeks ago
Medically reviewed by Dexter Macalintal, MD