Inborn errors of metabolism in infancy: a guide to diagnosis.

B. K. Burton*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

256 Scopus citations


Recent advances in the diagnosis and treatment of inborn errors of metabolism have improved substantially the prognosis for many of these conditions. This makes it essential that the practicing pediatrician be familiar with the clinical presentation of these disorders. A practical clinical approach to the recognition of inborn errors of metabolism in the young infant is presented in this review. Indications for specific laboratory studies are discussed. Guidelines are provided for the stabilization and emergency treatment of critically ill infants. This approach will identify those infants who will benefit from additional evaluation and specific treatment. Many of the inborn errors of metabolism, including urea cycle defects, organic acidemias, and certain disorders of amino acid metabolism, present in the young infant with symptoms of an acute or chronic metabolic encephalopathy. Typical symptoms include lethargy, poor feeding, apnea or tachypnea, and recurrent vomiting. Metabolic acidosis and/or hyperammonemia are observed in many of these conditions, but there are notable exceptions, including nonketotic hyperglycinemia and molybdenum co-factor deficiency. Therefore, appropriate laboratory testing for metabolic disorders should be performed in any infant who exhibits these findings. Although sepsis may be the initial consideration in a neonate with these symptoms, inborn errors of metabolism should always be in the differential diagnosis, particularly in a full-term infant with no specific risk factors. Hypoglycemia may be the predominant finding in a number of inborn errors of metabolism, including glycogen storage disorders, defects in gluconeogenesis, and fatty acid oxidation defects. The latter disorders, among the most common encountered, exhibit marked clinical variability and also may present as a sudden death, a Reye's-like episode, or a cardiomyopathy. Jaundice or other evidence of hepatic dysfunction is the mode of presentation of another important group of inborn errors of metabolism including galactosemia, hereditary tyrosinemia, neonatal hemochromatosis, and a number of other conditions. A subset of lysosomal storage disorders may present very early with coarse facial features, organomegaly, or even hydrops fetalis. Specific patterns of dysmorphic features and congenital anomalies characterize yet another group of inherited metabolic disorders, such as Zellweger syndrome and the Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome. Each of these symptom complexes, and the appropriate evaluation of the affected infants, is discussed in more detail in this review.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E69
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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