G6PD (glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase) is an enzyme in the red blood cells. G6PD plays a key role in the pathway that protects the red blood cells from harmful byproducts (natural oxygen chemicals) that build up when a person takes certain medicines or when the body is fighting an infection. When red blood cells that do not have enough of this enzyme are exposed to certain stresses (such as infections or medications) they have a very shortened lifespan in the blood, which causes a low red blood cell count known as anemia.
There are only a few things that produce these harmful byproducts, so person with G6PD deficiency can lead a normal and healthy active life by taking a few precautions.
How do you get G6PD deficiency?
G6PD Deficiency is passed on from one or both parents through their genes. It is more common in boys, but on occasion, a girl may be affected. It is quite common in many populations including people whose ancestors are from Africa, Mediterranean countries and several areas of Asia. The deficiency may have developed as a protection against malaria in these countries. The parasite that causes malaria does not survive well in cells that lack normal amounts of G6PD enzymes.
What is G6PD deficiency?
G6PD deficiency means the person does not have enough G6PD enzyme to get rid of the natural oxygen chemical byproducts. If too many of these byproducts build up, they will destroy red blood cells faster than the body can replace them and will cause severe anemia. Symptoms of severe anemia (also known as hemolytic anemia) are:
- Pale skin (darker-skinned children may have pale lips or tongues)
- Fatigue, sleeping or napping more than usual
- Shortness of breath or fast breathing
- Fast heart rate
- Enlarged spleen
- Dark, tea-colored urine
Symptoms of severe anemia usually disappear once the trigger that caused the symptoms has been removed and enough time has passed for the body to rebuild the level of red blood cells. Triggers for anemia in people with G6PD deficiency may include infection, exposure to moth balls, fava beans, or certain medications.
In rare cases, a person with G6PD deficiency may develop chronic anemia.
How can I find out if my child has G6PD deficiency?
A simple blood test can tell if your child has G6PD deficiency. If your ancestors come from an area where G6PD is common or if there is a personal family history of G6PD deficiency or anemia from an unknown cause, ask your physician if your children should have the blood test to screen for G6PD.
What can I do to help my child if he has G6PD deficiency?
- Keep your child away from moth balls or moth crystals. Moth balls can be very dangerous to children with G6PD.
- If a child with G6PD deficiency eats or even touches a moth ball or moth crystals, it can cause severe anemia.
- ANY contact with moth balls should be avoided.
- If your child has symptoms of infection, including viral infections, man appointment with his doctor.
- Infections can trigger anemia in children with G6PD deficiency.
- If your child has symptoms of anemia such as being pale, tired, weak or has yellow eyes or very dark urine, call your doctor immediately as these signs may indicate severe anemia.
- Do not give your child fava beans.
- Fava beans are also called broad beans or horse beans.
- Just touching fava beans can trigger anemia in some children with G6PD deficiency.
- Many people with G6PD deficiency cannot eat fava beans.
- Talk with your child’s doctor before you give him ANY medicine.
- Be sure to tell all of your child’s healthcare providers, including the school nurse, that he has G6PD deficiency.
- Below is a list of medicines that can be harmful in people with G6PD deficiency:
Vitamin K (water soluble derivatives)
This information is not intended to substitute or replace the professional medical advice you receive from your child's physician. The content provided on this page is for informational purposes only, and was not designed to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your child's physician with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical condition.