AGA Clinical Practice Update on Diagnosis and Management of Acute Hepatic Porphyrias: Expert Review

Gastroenterology. 2023 Mar;164(3):484-491. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2022.11.034. Epub 2023 Jan 13.


Description: The acute hepatic porphyrias (AHP) are rare, inborn errors of heme-metabolism and include acute intermittent porphyria, hereditary coproporphyria, variegate porphyria, and porphyria due to severe deficiency of 5-aminolevulinic acid dehydratase. Acute intermittent porphyria is the most common type of AHP, with an estimated prevalence of patients with symptoms of approximately 1 in 100,000. The major clinical presentation involves attacks of severe pain, usually abdominal and generalized, without peritoneal signs or abnormalities on cross-sectional imaging. Acute attacks occur mainly in women in their childbearing years. AHP should be considered in the evaluation of all patients, and especially women aged 15-50 years with recurrent severe abdominal pain not ascribable to common causes. The screening tests of choice include random urine porphobilinogen and δ-aminolevulinic acid corrected to creatinine. All patients with elevations in urinary porphobilinogen and/or δ-aminolevulinic acid should initially be presumed to have AHP. The cornerstones of management include discontinuation of porphyrinogenic drugs and chemicals, administration of oral or intravenous dextrose and intravenous hemin, and use of analgesics and antiemetics. Diagnosis of AHP type can be confirmed after initial treatment by genetic testing for pathogenic variants in HMBS, CPOX, PPOX, and ALAD genes. AHP is also associated with chronic symptoms and long-term risk of systemic arterial hypertension, chronic renal and liver disease, and hepatocellular carcinoma. Patients who have recurrent acute attacks (4 or more per year) should be considered for prophylactic therapy with intravenous hemin or subcutaneous givosiran. Liver transplantation is curative and reserved for patients with intractable symptoms who have failed other treatment options.

Methods: This expert review was commissioned and approved by the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) Institute Clinical Practice Updates Committee (CPUC) and the AGA Governing Board to provide timely guidance on a topic of high clinical importance to the AGA membership, and underwent internal peer review by the CPUC and external peer review through standard procedures of Gastroenterology. These Best Practice Advice (BPA) statements were drawn from a review of the published literature and from expert opinion. Because systematic reviews were not performed, these BPA statements do not carry formal ratings of the quality of evidence or strength of the presented considerations. Best Practice Advice Statements BEST PRACTICE ADVICE 1: Women aged 15-50 years with unexplained, recurrent severe abdominal pain without a clear etiology after an initial workup should be considered for screening for an AHP. BEST PRACTICE ADVICE 2: Initial diagnosis of AHP should be made by biochemical testing measuring δ-aminolevulinic acid, porphobilinogen, and creatinine on a random urine sample. BEST PRACTICE ADVICE 3: Genetic testing should be used to confirm the diagnosis of AHP in patients with positive biochemical testing. BEST PRACTICE ADVICE 4: Acute attacks of AHP that are severe enough to require hospital admission should be treated with intravenous hemin, given daily, preferably into a high-flow central vein. BEST PRACTICE ADVICE 5: In addition to intravenous hemin, management of acute attacks of AHP should include pain control, antiemetics, management of systemic arterial hypertension, tachycardia, and hyponatremia, and hypomagnesemia, if present. BEST PRACTICE ADVICE 6: Patients should be counseled to avoid identifiable triggers that may precipitate acute attacks, such as alcohol and porphyrinogenic medications. BEST PRACTICE ADVICE 7: Prophylactic heme therapy or givosiran, administered in an outpatient setting, should be considered in patients with recurrent attacks (4 or more per year). BEST PRACTICE ADVICE 8: Liver transplantation for AHP should be limited to patients with intractable symptoms and significantly decreased quality of life who are refractory to pharmacotherapy. BEST PRACTICE ADVICE 9: Patients with AHP should be monitored annually for liver disease. BEST PRACTICE ADVICE 10: Patients with AHP, regardless of the severity of symptoms, should undergo surveillance for hepatocellular carcinoma, beginning at age 50 years, with liver ultrasound every 6 months. BEST PRACTICE ADVICE 11: Patients with AHP on treatment should undergo surveillance for chronic kidney disease annually with serum creatinine and estimated glomerular filtration rate. BEST PRACTICE ADVICE 12: Patients should be counseled on the chronic and long-term complications of AHP, including neuropathy, chronic kidney disease, hypertension, and hepatocellular carcinoma, and need for long-term monitoring.

Keywords: 5-Aminolevulinic Acid; 5-Aminolevulinic Acid Synthase; Heme; Porphobilinogen; Porphyria; Porphyrins.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Practice Guideline
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Pain
  • Aminolevulinic Acid / urine
  • Antiemetics*
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular*
  • Creatinine
  • Female
  • Heme
  • Hemin
  • Humans
  • Hypertension*
  • Liver Neoplasms*
  • Middle Aged
  • Porphobilinogen / urine
  • Porphobilinogen Synthase
  • Porphyria, Acute Intermittent* / diagnosis
  • Porphyria, Acute Intermittent* / genetics
  • Porphyrias, Hepatic*
  • Quality of Life
  • Renal Insufficiency, Chronic*
  • United States


  • Porphobilinogen Synthase
  • Porphobilinogen
  • Hemin
  • Aminolevulinic Acid
  • Antiemetics
  • Creatinine
  • Heme
  • PPOX protein, human

Supplementary concepts

  • Porphyria, Acute Hepatic