Red blood cells are needed to deliver oxygen from the lungs to other parts of the body. Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) is an enzyme that protects red blood cells. Some people do not have enough G6PD to protect their red blood cells, and this condition is called “G6PD deficiency.”
People with G6PD deficiency are at higher risk for red blood cell destruction, especially after they are exposed to certain “triggers” (certain medicines and some foods). As a result, they might develop a condition known as “hemolytic anemia,” which means that red blood cells are destroyed and removed from the bloodstream sooner than they should be.
When this happens, there are not enough red blood cells in the body to carry oxygen normally. This can cause a person to feel tired, be short of breath, and have a fast heartbeat. Also, when red blood cells are destroyed, a substance called bilirubin enters the bloodstream. High levels of bilirubin can lead to yellowing of the eyes and skin. The medical word for this is “jaundice.”
G6PD deficiency is one of the most common genetic enzyme deficiencies in the world, with about 400 million people affected. It is more common in males than females, and it is more common in people with African, Mediterranean, or Southeast Asian ancestry.
Some people may have a mild form of G6PD deficiency and others may have a more severe form. People with severe G6PD deficiency may have red blood cell destruction even if they are not exposed to any triggers. People with mild G6PD deficiency only have red blood cell destruction if it is triggered by a certain medicine or food.
Testing for G6PD deficiency
A blood test can find G6PD deficiency. This test measures the activity of G6PD enzymes in the blood. People with low G6PD activity have G6PD deficiency.
Medicines and foods to avoid with G6PD deficiency
Most of the time, people with G6PD deficiency can live healthy lives as long as they avoid certain foods and medicines that cause red blood cell damage. Examples of such foods and medicines include the following:
- Foods to avoid:
- Fava beans
- Medicines to avoid:
- Certain sulfa medicines (such as Septra® or Bactrim ®)
- Certain medicines to treat malaria (such as quinine)
A complete list of foods and medicines to avoid can be found on this website: www.g6pd.org/en/G6PDDeficiency/SafeUnsafe.aspx. If you have specific questions about which foods or medicines to avoid, contact your child’s doctor or pharmacist.
Medical alert bracelet or card for G6PD deficiency
People with G6PD deficiency may benefit from having a medical alert bracelet or wallet pocket card that informs others of this condition. In an emergency, doctors can take this information into account before prescribing medicines.
If you have questions or concerns about G6PD deficiency, talk to your child’s doctor or pharmacist.
This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.
St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.
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