Acute hepatic porphyrias: Current diagnosis & management

Mol Genet Metab. 2019 Nov;128(3):219-227. doi: 10.1016/j.ymgme.2019.07.002. Epub 2019 Jul 5.


Each of the four acute hepatic porphyrias is due to mutation of an enzyme in the heme biosynthetic pathway. The accumulation of pathway intermediates that occur most notably when these diseases are active is the basis for screening and establishing a biochemical diagnosis of these rare disorders. Measurement of enzyme activities and especially DNA testing also are important for diagnosis. Suspicion of the diagnosis and specific testing, particularly measurement of urinary porphobilinogen, are often delayed because the symptoms are nonspecific, even when severe. Urinary porphyrins are also measured, but their elevation is much less specific. If porphobilinogen is elevated, second line testing will establish the type of acute porphyria. DNA testing identifies the familial mutation and enables screening of family members. Management includes removal of triggering factors whenever possible. Intravenous hemin is the most effective treatment for acute attacks. Carbohydrate loading is sometimes used for mild attacks. Cyclic attacks, if frequent, can be prevented by a GnRH analogue. Frequent noncyclic attacks are sometime preventable by scheduled (e.g. weekly) hemin infusions. Long term complications may include chronic pain, renal impairment and liver cancer. Other treatments, including RNA interference, are under development.

Keywords: GnRH analogues; Hemin; Porphobilinogen; Porphyrias; Porphyrins; RNA interference.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biosynthetic Pathways
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Disease Management*
  • Heme / biosynthesis
  • Heme / genetics
  • Hemin / administration & dosage
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Porphobilinogen / urine
  • Porphobilinogen Synthase / deficiency*
  • Porphobilinogen Synthase / genetics
  • Porphyrias, Hepatic / diagnosis*
  • Porphyrias, Hepatic / genetics
  • Porphyrias, Hepatic / therapy*


  • Heme
  • Hemin
  • Porphobilinogen
  • Porphobilinogen Synthase

Supplementary concepts

  • Porphyria, Acute Hepatic