Classic Galactosemia

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Classic Galactosemia: A Comprehensive Guide


Classic galactosemia is a rare inherited metabolic disorder that affects the body’s ability to break down galactose, a simple sugar found in milk, lactose-containing dairy products, and certain fruits and vegetables. This condition, if untreated, can lead to severe complications, including liver failure, intellectual disability, and developmental delays. Understanding classic galactosemia, its diagnosis, treatment, and management is crucial for healthcare professionals and individuals affected by this condition.

Genetics and Inheritance

Classic galactosemia is caused by mutations in the GALT gene, which encodes the enzyme galactose-1-phosphate uridyltransferase (GALT). This enzyme plays a critical role in converting galactose-1-phosphate to glucose-1-phosphate, allowing the body to metabolize galactose. When the GALT gene is mutated, the enzyme is either deficient or inactive, leading to an accumulation of galactose and its toxic metabolites in the body.

Classic galactosemia is inherited in an autosomal recessive pattern. This means that individuals must inherit two mutated copies of the GALT gene, one from each parent, to develop the condition. Parents of children with classic galactosemia are typically carriers, meaning they have one mutated and one normal copy of the GALT gene. Carriers do not have symptoms of galactosemia but can pass the mutated gene to their children.

Clinical Manifestations

The clinical manifestations of classic galactosemia usually appear within the first few days or weeks of life after exposure to galactose through breast milk or formula. Symptoms can vary in severity, ranging from mild biochemical abnormalities to life-threatening complications.

Common Signs and Symptoms:

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Failure to thrive (poor weight gain and growth)
  • Hepatomegaly (enlarged liver)
  • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
  • Cataracts (clouding of the lens of the eye)

Severe Complications:

  • Liver failure
  • Intellectual disability
  • Developmental delays
  • Speech problems
  • Premature ovarian failure in females
  • Growth retardation
  • Esophageal strictures (narrowing of the esophagus)


The diagnosis of classic galactosemia is typically made based on a combination of clinical symptoms and biochemical testing. Blood tests can detect elevated levels of galactose and its metabolites. Genetic testing can confirm the diagnosis by identifying mutations in the GALT gene.

Early diagnosis is crucial for preventing severe complications. Screening for galactosemia is recommended for all newborns in many countries.

Dietary Management

The primary treatment for classic galactosemia is a lifelong galactose-restricted diet. This diet involves avoiding all sources of galactose, including:

  • Milk and dairy products (cow’s milk, goat’s milk, cheese, yogurt)
  • Lactose-containing products (bread, cereals, processed foods)
  • Certain fruits and vegetables (apples, pears, legumes)
  • Galactose-containing medications and supplements

Strict adherence to the diet is essential to prevent the accumulation of toxic metabolites and protect the liver and other organs from damage.

Other Treatment Options

In addition to dietary management, other treatment options may be required to address specific complications. These may include:

  • Liver transplantation for severe liver failure
  • Surgery for esophageal strictures
  • Speech therapy for speech problems
  • Educational and developmental support for intellectual disability


With early diagnosis and strict adherence to the galactose-restricted diet, most individuals with classic galactosemia can live healthy and productive lives. The prognosis depends on the severity of the condition and the age at which treatment is initiated. However, even with optimal management, some individuals may experience certain long-term complications, such as mild intellectual disability or speech problems.

Screening and Prevention

Newborn screening for galactosemia is widely recommended to detect the condition early and prevent severe complications. If a newborn is diagnosed with galactosemia, all members of the family should be tested for carrier status.

Genetic counseling is available for families affected by galactosemia. It can help individuals understand the condition, its inheritance pattern, and the risks of passing it on to future generations.


Classic galactosemia is a rare inherited metabolic disorder that can lead to severe complications if untreated. Early diagnosis and lifelong dietary management are crucial for preventing or mitigating these complications and ensuring the optimal health and well-being of individuals affected by this condition. Healthcare professionals should be aware of the signs and symptoms of classic galactosemia and should consider screening newborns for this condition to promote early intervention and prevent adverse outcomes.

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