Favism occurs because of a defect in the G6PD gene, which codes for an important enzyme in the human body. The enzyme deficiency leads to anemia and hemolysis and cannot be treated causally. The prognosis is very good if those affected avoid triggering substances for life.
What is favism?
According to Psyknowhow, favism is the pathological course of an enzyme deficiency. Affected people have a mutation in the G6PD gene, which leads to a lack of glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase in the body. The consequences are anemia, too low a concentration of hemoglobin in the blood and recurring hemolysis, in which the erythrocytes are destroyed.
Overall, a little less than 8 percent of all people have mutations in the G6PD gene; however, only 25 percent of them develop favism. People with this gene mutation who have already developed symptoms should avoid any contact with substances that are dangerous to them. These include, for example, Vicia faba beans and their pollen.
Favism occurs mainly in the Mediterranean area, parts of Africa, the Middle East and some Asian countries such as Thailand or India. Amazingly, there is no malaria outbreak in those affected by favism, as the malaria pathogens can hardly multiply due to the lack of enzymes.
Favism is a hereditary disease that is inherited in an X-linked recessive manner. Since the inheritance is X-linked, women are affected significantly less often than men. Women can compensate for a genetic defect on one X chromosome with the other. Men only have one X chromosome, which is why a mutation on a gene there cannot be compensated for. The mutation in the G6PD gene is particularly prevalent in ethnic groups that live in the area where the malaria pathogen is distributed.
Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase plays an important role in the human metabolism. A deficiency means that reactive chemical compounds, namely peroxides, can attack components of the red blood cells unhindered. This causes chronic anemia and hemolysis to occur. Basically, the symptoms only set in when those affected come into contact with the triggering substances. These substances are found in broad beans (Vicia faba), currants and peas, among other things.
The disease can also be triggered by various other substances such as acetylsalicylic acid or anti-malarial drugs. Stress and infection can also trigger favism.
Symptoms, ailments & signs
Symptoms and complaints typically only appear some time after contact with the triggering substances. The first signs can usually be seen after a few hours. However, it can also take a few days for symptoms to appear. Not everyone with a G6PD gene defect will automatically develop favism. Why the disease breaks out in some people with the mutation and not in others is not yet fully understood.
Favism is not infrequently associated with serious and potentially life-threatening symptoms. The first signs of a relapse are stomach and back pain, fever, chills, and a general feeling of weakness. With severe hemolytic anemia, patients are usually in a life-threatening state of shock. If the course is severe, a flare-up can lead to acute kidney failure.
As part of the diagnosis, a detailed anamnesis is first taken. The attending physician asks about the intake of medication and about contact with triggering foods such as field beans. In order to make a final diagnosis, the doctor takes blood, which is examined in a laboratory. In the case of a G6PDH deficiency, reduced enzyme activity is found.
So that the test results cannot be falsified, the enzyme activity in the reticulocytes, the precursors of the red blood cells, is examined. It also makes sense to have the number of reticulocytes determined. The course of the disease is mild in most cases as long as triggering substances are avoided. However, if those affected do not know anything about their disease, this can lead to a severe enzyme deficiency, which significantly reduces life expectancy.
As a rule, there are no complications with favism if the patient completely avoids contact with the respective substance or substances. As a result, everyday life and life can be restricted, which reduces the quality of life. In many cases, favism is difficult to determine because symptoms do not appear until several days after exposure to the triggering substance.
If you do without this substance, favism can be avoided. Those affected mainly suffer from severe pain in the abdomen, abdomen and back. There is also a fever and chills, which is why the symptoms of favism are often mistaken for a cold or flu. In addition, there is a feeling of weakness, dizziness and often vomiting.
However, the patient also goes into shock, which can differentiate favism from flu. If the favism is not treated directly, it can damage the kidney. In many cases, treatment is not possible. The patient has to do without certain ingredients for his entire life. This does not reduce life expectancy.
Severe attacks are treated in the intensive care unit and do not lead to any further symptoms if treated quickly and early. Due to the lack of hygiene and medical care in the countries in which favism tends to occur, this can lead to serious complications.
When should you go to the doctor?
A favism cannot be treated directly and causally. Those affected are therefore not always dependent on a doctor. Above all, by avoiding the triggering substances, the symptoms can be completely avoided. A doctor should then be consulted if the symptoms result in an acute emergency. This is the case, for example, if the person concerned has a high fever and severe pain in the abdomen or back.
A general feeling of weakness and tiredness can also indicate the disease and should definitely be examined. Furthermore, the disease can also lead to a state of shock. If the patient loses consciousness due to the symptoms, an emergency doctor must be called directly or the hospital selected. Most often the disease can be diagnosed by a general practitioner or directly in the hospital. Since there is no causal treatment for the disease, patients must avoid the causative agent for their entire life. In most cases, the patient’s life expectancy is not negatively affected by the disease.
Treatment & Therapy
To date, there is no treatment for favism that eliminates the underlying cause. The gene mutation exists from the time of fertilization and cannot be treated. People affected by favism must avoid all contact with the substances that cause the disease for their entire life. This applies to foods such as beans and peas as well as certain drugs. If this succeeds, life expectancy is not reduced compared to the unaffected population.
Favism is particularly problematic when the disease remains undetected for a long time and then there is contact with a triggering substance. This leads to a severe episode, which must be treated in intensive care. Because of the severe hemolytic anemia that can accompany favism, there is a risk of serious complications.
In individual cases, haptoglobin is used for therapy. This is a protein found in the blood plasma that is involved in the transport of hemoglobin. During hemolysis, the level of haptoglobin in the blood is low. This treatment is not suitable for all patients and is only used in emergencies.
Outlook & forecast
Since favism is a genetic disease, it is currently considered incurable. With the current medical and especially the legal requirements, no changes can be made to human genetics. Nevertheless, the symptoms of enzyme deficiency do not break out in all carriers of the gene mutation.
Patients who show symptoms have a good prognosis under certain conditions. By complying with medical requirements, there is the prospect of lifelong freedom from symptoms. The health impairments of the enzyme deficiency are triggered in the affected patients as soon as they ingest selected substances through their food intake.
Permanent renunciation of the triggering nutrients leads to recovery. If the substance concerned is consumed in the further course of life, symptoms arise immediately. However, spontaneous healing occurs as soon as the substances are removed from the organism. In exceptional cases, irreversible damage to the organism occurs when the substances are absorbed.
In an acute condition due to the enzyme deficiency, acute kidney failure | failure of kidney function can occur. In these cases, the patient needs a donor kidney transplant so that there is a prospect of a cure. Otherwise, lifelong medical dialysis treatment is necessary or the patient dies prematurely.
The genetic defect that is the cause of favism cannot be prevented because it already exists before birth. In order to prevent flare-ups, those affected must be careful not to come into contact with triggering substances such as field beans. When treating bacterial or viral infections, the doctor must be informed about the enzyme deficiency because some drugs contain substances that are dangerous for those affected. For example, drugs containing sulfonamides or acetylsaliclyic acid should not be taken.
In the case of favism, in most cases there are no or only a few measures and options for follow-up care available to the person affected. The person affected is primarily dependent on the early detection and subsequent treatment of the disease in order to prevent further complications. Further complaints can only be prevented through early detection of the favism.
Independent healing cannot occur. Since favism is a genetic disease, it can also be passed on. If you want to have children, genetic counseling should therefore also be carried out in order to possibly avoid this. In the case of this disease, the person affected should in any case avoid contact with the triggering substances.
A doctor should clarify which substances are involved. Furthermore, those affected are very often dependent on the help of acquaintances and friends or even family in their everyday life to make this easier. Conversations are also useful in order to prevent psychological upsets or depression that could result from favism. Whether the disease will lead to a reduced life expectancy cannot be universally predicted. Contact with other sufferers can also be useful with this disease.
You can do that yourself
Self-help measures are not enough in an acute hemolytic crisis. She needs immediate medical treatment. The underlying enzyme defect is incurable. However, those affected can prevent its consequences – anemia and acute attacks – by avoiding the triggering substances and products.
These include beans, especially the broad bean plant and its pollen, as well as peas, soy products and currants. Many drugs can induce hemolysis in people with G6PD deficiency, including common pain relievers such as acetylsalicylic acid (ASA) as well as certain antibiotics (e.g. sulfonamides and ciprofloxacin) and anti-malarial drugs such as chloroquine.
Therefore, patients should inform their doctor about their enzyme defect so that he does not prescribe any of these preparations. Henna products, mothballs and toilet deodorant often contain naphthalene. This is another substance that can lead to a hemolytic crisis.
Infections can also critically increase oxidative stress. It is therefore essential to treat it at an early stage in order to prevent a relapse. Patients prone to severe crises should wear an emergency ID card. In the case of chronic haemolysis, daily administration of a folic acid preparation alleviates anemia. Because the G6PD deficiency is hereditary, those affected should also have their children tested for the defect.