Laboratory diagnostic approaches in metabolic disorders

Ruben Bonilla Guerrero, Denise Salazar, Pranoot Tanpaiboon


The diagnosis of inborn errors of metabolism (IEM) takes many forms. Due to the implementation and advances in newborn screening (NBS), the diagnosis of many IEM has become relatively easy utilizing laboratory biomarkers. For the majority of IEM, early diagnosis prevents the onset of severe clinical symptoms, thus reducing morbidity and mortality. However, due to molecular, biochemical, and clinical variability of IEM, not all disorders included in NBS programs will be detected and diagnosed by screening alone. This article provides a general overview and simplified guidelines for the diagnosis of IEM in patients with and without an acute metabolic decompensation, with early or late onset of clinical symptoms. The proper use of routine laboratory results in the initial patient assessment is also discussed, which can help guide efficient ordering of specialized laboratory tests to confirm a potential diagnosis and initiate treatment as soon as possible.