Recognition and management of fatty acid oxidation defects: a series of 107 patients

J Inherit Metab Dis. 1999 Jun;22(4):488-502. doi: 10.1023/a:1005556207210.


In a personal series of 107 patients, we describe clinical presentations, methods of recognition and therapeutic management of inherited fatty acid oxidation (FAO) defects. As a whole, FAO disorders appear very severe: among the 107 patients, only 57 are still living. Including 47 siblings who died early in infancy, in total 97 patients died, of whom 30% died within the first week of life and 69% before 1 year. Twenty-eight patients presented in the neonatal period with sudden death, heart beat disorders, or neurological distress with various metabolic disturbances. Hepatic presentations were observed in 73% of patients (steatosis, hypoketotic hypoglycaemia, hepatomegaly, Reye syndrome). True hepatic failure was rare (10%); cholestasis was observed in one patient with LCHAD deficiency. Cardiac presentations were observed in 51% of patients: 67% patients presented with cardiomyopathy, mostly hypertrophic, and 47% of patients had heart beat disorders with various conduction abnormalities and arrhythmias responsible for collapse, near-miss and sudden unexpected death. All enzymatic blocks affecting FAO except CPT I and MCAD were found associated with cardiac signs. Muscular signs were observed in 51% of patients (of whom 64% had myalgias or paroxysmal myoglobinuria, and 29% had progressive proximal myopathy). Chronic neurologic presentation was rare, except in LCHAD deficiency (retinitis pigmentosa and peripheral neuropathy). Renal presentation (tubulopathy) and transient renal failure were observed in 27% of patients. The diagnosis of FAO disorders is generally based on the plasma acylcarnitine profile determined by FAB-MS/MS from simple blood spots collected on a Guthrie card. Urinary organic acid profile and total and free plasma carnitine can also be very helpful, mostly in acute attacks. If there is no significant disturbance between attacks, the diagnosis is based upon a long-chain fatty acid loading test, fasting test, and in vitro studies of fatty acid oxidation on fresh lymphocytes or cultured fibroblasts. Treatment includes avoiding fasting or catabolism, suppressing lipolysis, and carnitine supplementation. The long-term dietary therapy aims to prevent periods of fasting and restrict long-chain fatty acid intake with supplementation of medium-chain triglycerides. Despite these therapeutic measures, the long-term prognosis remains uncertain.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Disease Management
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Lipid Metabolism, Inborn Errors / diagnosis
  • Lipid Metabolism, Inborn Errors / physiopathology*
  • Lipid Metabolism, Inborn Errors / therapy*
  • Male
  • Oxidation-Reduction


  • Fatty Acids