Common metabolic disorder (inborn errors of metabolism) concerns in primary care practice

Marisha Agana, Julia Frueh, Manmohan Kamboj, Dilip R. Patel, Shibani Kanungo


Inborn errors of metabolism (IEMs) are rare genetic or inherited disorders resulting from an enzyme defect in biochemical and metabolic pathways affecting proteins, fats, carbohydrates metabolism or impaired organelle function presenting as complicated medical conditions involving several human organ systems. They involve great complexity of the underlying pathophysiology, biochemical workup, and molecular analysis, and have complicated therapeutic options for management. Age of presentation can vary from infancy to adolescence with the more severe forms appearing in early childhood accompanied by significant morbidity and mortality. The understanding of these complex disorders requires special in-depth training, American Board of Medical Genetics and Genomics (ABMGG) certification and experience. Most primary care physicians (PCPs) are reluctant to deal with IEM due to unfamiliarity and rarity of such conditions compounded by prompt progression to crisis situations along with paucity of time involved in dealing with such complex disorders. While there are biochemical geneticists aka metabolic specialists’ expertise available, mostly in larger academic medical centers, with expertise to deal with these rare complex issues, their initial clinical presentation in most newborns, children, adolescents or adults including asymptomatic positive newborn screen (NBS), occur in the out-patient PCP settings. Therefore, it is important that PCPs’ comfort to recognize early signs and symptoms is important to initiate appropriate diagnostic and therapeutic interventions, and be able to make appropriate referrals. The following article reviews common IEM clinical presentations for a robust diagnostic differential and discuss evaluation and management approaches of patients with known or suspected IEM.