Galactosemia is an inherited disorder. This means it is passed down through families. If both parents carry a nonworking copy of the gene that can cause galactosemia, each of their children has a 25% (1 in 4) chance of being affected with it.
There are 3 forms of the disease:
Galactose-1 phosphate uridyl transferase deficiency: Classic galactosemia, the most common and most severe form
Deficiency of galactose kinase
Deficiency of galactose-6-phosphate epimerase
People with galactosemia are unable to fully break down the simple sugar galactose. Galactose makes up half of lactose, the sugar found in milk.
If an infant with galactosemia is given milk, substances made from galactose build up in the infant's system. These substances damage the liver, brain, kidneys, and eyes.
People with galactosemia cannot tolerate any form of milk (human or animal). They must be careful about eating other foods containing galactose.
Infants with galactosemia can develop symptoms in the first few days of life if they eat formula or breast milk that contains lactose. The symptoms may be due to a serious blood infection with the bacteria E coli.
People with this condition must avoid all milk, products that contain milk (including dry milk), and other foods that contain galactose, for life. Read product labels to make sure you or your child with the condition are not eating foods that contain galactose.
Infants can be fed:
Another lactose-free formula
Meat-based formula or Nutramigen (a protein hydrolysate formula)
Tremors (shaking) and uncontrollable motor functions
Death (if there is galactose in the diet)
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if:
Your infant has galactosemia symptoms
You have a family history of galactosemia and are considering having children
It is helpful to know your family history. If you have a family history of galactosemia and want to have children, genetic counseling will help you make decisions about pregnancy and prenatal testing. Once the diagnosis of galactosemia is made, genetic counseling is recommended for other members of the family.
Many states screen all newborns for galactosemia. If the newborn test shows possible galactosemia, they should stop giving their infant milk products right away and ask their provider about having blood tests that can be done to confirm a diagnosis of galactosemia.
Berry GT, Walter JH. Disorders of galactose metabolism. In: Saudubray JM, van den Berghe G, Walter JH, eds. Inborn Metabolic Diseases: Diagnosis and Treatment. 5th ed. New York, NY: Springer; 2012:chap 7.
Broomfield A, Brain C, Grunewald S. Galactosaemia: diagnosis, management and long-term outcome. Paediatrics and Child Health. 2015:25(3);113-118.
Chad Haldeman-Englert, MD, FACMG, Wake Forest School of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, Section on Medical Genetics, Winston-Salem, NC. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.