Porphyrias: A 2015 update

Clin Res Hepatol Gastroenterol. 2015 Sep;39(4):412-25. doi: 10.1016/j.clinre.2015.05.009. Epub 2015 Jul 2.


The hereditary porphyrias comprise a group of eight metabolic disorders of the heme biosynthesis pathway. Each porphyria is caused by abnormal function at a separate enzymatic step resulting in a specific accumulation of heme precursors. Porphyrias are classified as hepatic or erythropoietic, based on the organ system in which heme precursors (δ-aminolevulinic acid [ALA], porphobilinogen and porphyrins) are overproduced. Clinically, porphyrias are characterized by acute neurovisceral symptoms, skin lesions or both. However, most if not all the porphyrias impair hepatic or gastrointestinal function. Acute hepatic porphyrias present with severe abdominal pain, nausea, constipation, confusion and seizure, which may be life threatening, and patients are at risk of hepatocellular carcinoma without cirrhosis. Porphyria Cutanea presents with skin fragility and blisters, and patients are at risk of hepatocellular carcinoma with liver iron overload. Erythropoietic protoporphyria and X-linked protoporphyria present with acute painful photosensitivity, and patients are at risk of acute liver failure. Altogether, porphyrias are still underdiagnosed, but once they are suspected, early diagnosis based on measurement of biochemical metabolites that accumulate in the blood, urine, or feces is essential so specific treatment can be started as soon as possible and long-term liver complications are prevented. Screening families to identify presymptomatic carriers is also crucial to prevent overt disease and chronic hepatic complications.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Porphyrias / classification
  • Porphyrias / diagnosis*
  • Porphyrias / genetics
  • Porphyrias / therapy*
  • Risk Factors