Headache and neuropsychic disorders in the puerperium: a case report with suspected deficiency of urea cycle enzymes

Neurol Sci. 2011 May;32 Suppl 1:S157-9. doi: 10.1007/s10072-011-0518-3.


An enzymatic abnormality of the urea cycle is a metabolic disorder occasionally seen in adults, but particularly in the puerperium. The main risk is acute hyperammoniemic encephalopathy, leading to psychosis, coma and even death if not diagnosed promptly and treated appropriately. Headache is frequent in the puerperium normally manifesting between 3 and 6 days after delivery. We describe here a 39-year-old woman, who 3 days after delivery presented diffuse tension-type headache and depression, followed by behavioral disorders, psychomotor agitation, epileptic seizures, and finally coma 2 days later. Pregnancy and normal delivery: routine blood chemistry findings, CT scan, MR imaging, angio-MR of the brain, and lumbar puncture were normal. EEG when seizures started, it showed diffuse slowing, as in the case of metabolic encephalopathy. This led us to assay blood ammonia, which was high at >400 mmol. Liver function and abdominal US were normal; hence, we suspected a urea cycle enzymatic abnormality, and requested for genetic tests. These confirmed a congenital primary metabolic deficiency of arginine succinate synthetase, with high citrullinemia (type II, adult form). Dialysis was started promptly, with initially iv arginine, then orally, plus medical therapy for the hyperammoniemia and a low protein diet; plasma ammonia dropped swiftly to normal, and her state of consciousness gradually improved until all the clinical symptoms had resolved. Ammonia assay should always be considered in the first few days of the puerperium in women with headache and behavioral disorders, to exclude an inborn deficiency of the urea cycle, which may have gone unnoticed until then.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Argininosuccinate Synthase / deficiency*
  • Argininosuccinate Synthase / metabolism
  • Female
  • Headache / enzymology*
  • Headache / etiology
  • Headache / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Hyperammonemia / etiology
  • Hyperammonemia / physiopathology
  • Puerperal Disorders / etiology*
  • Puerperal Disorders / physiopathology
  • Urea Cycle Disorders, Inborn / complications
  • Urea Cycle Disorders, Inborn / enzymology*
  • Urea Cycle Disorders, Inborn / physiopathology


  • Argininosuccinate Synthase