Table of Contents

Alternative Names

  • Galactose-1-phosphate uridyl transferase deficiency;
  • Galactokinase deficiency;
  • Galactose-6-phosphate epimerase deficiency;
  • GALT;
  • GALK;
  • GALE;
  • Epimerase deficiency galactosemia;
  • GALE deficiency;
  • Galactosemia type III;
  • UDP-galactose-4;
  • Duarte variant
  • UDP-galactose-4-epimerase deficiency disease
  • UTP hexose-1-phosphate uridylyltransferase deficiency
  • Classic galactosemia

In vitro fertilization (IVF) and preimplantation genetic testing (PGT) are significant advancements in the realm of reproductive medicine and genetics, particularly for individuals at risk of transmitting genetic disorders like Galactosemia. For couples with a known risk of passing on Galactosemia to their offspring, IVF coupled with PGT offers a proactive approach. In this process, eggs are fertilized in a lab setting, and the resulting embryos are screened for the specific genetic mutations associated with Galactosemia. This enables the selection of embryos without the disorder for implantation, significantly reducing the likelihood of the child inheriting Galactosemia. Thus, IVF and PGT provide a powerful combination for family planning, particularly for those with a genetic predisposition to this condition, allowing them to minimize the risk of genetic transmission while achieving pregnancy.


Galactosemia is a genetic metabolic disorder present from birth, affecting the body’s ability to process the sugar galactose properly. This impairment is due to a deficiency in the enzymes responsible for breaking down galactose. In most dairy products, including milk, milk-based formulas, and breast milk, the primary sugar is lactose, which is composed of two simpler sugars: glucose and galactose. Therefore, when a baby with galactosemia consumes milk or dairy products, they cannot adequately metabolize the galactose component. This inability leads to the accumulation of high levels of galactose in their blood, causing damage to critical organs such as the liver, brain, kidneys, and eyes. The term “galactosemia” translates to “galactose in the blood,” reflecting this fundamental aspect of the disorder. As a result, managing this condition often involves the exclusion of milk and dairy products from the diet to prevent the harmful build-up of galactose in the body.

Galactosemia, a metabolic disorder, is categorized into three main types based on the specific enzyme deficiency involved. Each type reflects a different aspect of the metabolic pathway that processes galactose, a sugar found in milk and dairy products:

  1. Classic Galactosemia (Type I): This is the most common and severe form of the condition. It occurs due to a deficiency in the enzyme galactose-1-phosphate uridyl transferase (GALT). This deficiency leads to a significant build-up of galactose in the blood, causing various health complications.
  2. Galactokinase Deficiency (Type II): In this type, the deficiency is in the enzyme galactokinase (GALK). This enzyme’s role is to catalyze the first step in galactose metabolism. While Type II is generally less severe than classic galactosemia, it can still lead to complications, particularly affecting the eyes (like cataracts).
  3. Galactose Epimerase Deficiency (Type III): This rare form is due to a deficiency in the enzyme UDP-galactose-4′-epimerase (GALE). This enzyme functions later in the galactose metabolism pathway. The severity of Type III galactosemia can vary widely among individuals.

Each type of galactosemia requires careful dietary management to avoid foods and beverages containing galactose, primarily milk and dairy products, to prevent the harmful effects of undigested galactose accumulation in the body.

Duarte galactosemia is a variant of galactosemia that is less severe than the classic type. It also results from mutations in the GALT gene, the same gene responsible for classic galactosemia (Type I). However, the key difference lies in the nature and severity of the mutation. In Duarte galactosemia, the mutation leads to a reduction, but not a complete elimination, of the enzyme activity necessary for metabolizing galactose.

As a result, individuals with Duarte galactosemia retain some ability to process galactose, although not as efficiently as those without the condition. This reduced enzyme function can cause some digestive difficulties when consuming foods containing galactose, but it generally does not lead to the same serious medical complications seen in classic galactosemia.

Due to the milder nature of the condition, people with Duarte galactosemia may not need to strictly avoid galactose in their diet. However, the dietary management and medical supervision can vary depending on the individual’s specific health needs and the extent of enzyme activity reduction. It’s important for individuals with Duarte galactosemia to consult with healthcare professionals for personalized dietary and health advice.


Galactosemia is a disorder that affects individuals across all ethnic groups, but there are notable variations in its frequency and types among different populations:

  1. Increased Frequency in Irish Ancestry: Individuals of Irish descent exhibit a higher frequency of galactosemia, particularly the classic type (Type I). This increased prevalence is likely due to genetic factors that are more common in this population.
  2. Clinical Variant Galactosemia in African Americans and Native Africans: This variant is more frequently observed in African Americans and native Africans in South Africa. It is associated with a specific gene mutation different from the one causing classic galactosemia. This variant, often referred to as Duarte galactosemia, is generally milder than the classic form.
  3. Prevalence of Classic Galactosemia: The classic form of galactosemia occurs in approximately 1 in 30,000 to 60,000 newborns. This form is caused by a mutation in the GALT gene and is characterized by a severe deficiency in the enzyme required for metabolizing galactose.

These variations highlight the importance of genetic factors in the occurrence and characteristics of galactosemia. They also underscore the need for awareness and screening, particularly in populations with higher prevalence rates. Early diagnosis and intervention are crucial for managing the condition effectively, especially in its more severe forms.

Signs & Symptoms

Galactosemia usually causes no symptoms at birth. Signs of classic galactosemia usually start in a baby’s first week of life. Symptoms start to show up within a few days after they begin to drink breast milk or formula with lactose — the milk sugar that contains galactose. They include:

  • poor feeding
  • vomiting
  • fussiness or irritability
  • yellow skin and eyes (jaundice) and a big liver
  • cataracts (cloudy eye lenses)
  • blood infections (sepsis)
  • Diarrhea
  • severe weight loss


Differntial diagnosis

Several disorders exhibit symptoms similar to those of galactosemia, making differential diagnosis important:

  1. Galactokinase (GALK) Deficiency: This condition is characterized by cataracts, increased blood levels of galactose, and elevated galactitol in the urine. It is caused by a deficiency in the enzyme galactokinase, which plays a role in the initial steps of galactose metabolism.
  2. Uridine Diphosphate Galactose 4-Epimerase (GALE) Deficiency: GALE deficiency can present symptoms similar to GALT deficiency (classic galactosemia) when it appears in the newborn period. This condition involves a different enzyme in the galactose metabolism pathway but can lead to similar metabolic issues.
  3. Lactose Intolerance (LI): LI is characterized by an inability to properly digest lactose, the main sugar found in milk and dairy products. Unlike galactosemia, lactose intolerance typically results from a deficiency in the enzyme lactase and doesn’t usually lead to the severe complications seen in galactosemia.
  4. Neonatal Hepatitis: This term refers to liver injury occurring shortly before or after birth. While not a specific disease, neonatal hepatitis can include symptoms like jaundice and liver dysfunction, which can be mistaken for signs of galactosemia.

Each of these conditions requires a distinct approach to diagnosis and treatment. Accurate diagnosis is crucial for effective management, as the treatment strategies can differ significantly based on the underlying disorder.


Without appropriate treatment, children with galactosemia can face a range of serious health issues and developmental challenges:

  1. Cataracts: The accumulation of galactose can lead to the development of cataracts, affecting the child’s vision.
  2. Increased Susceptibility to Infections: Due to the impact on the immune system, children with untreated galactosemia may be more prone to infections.
  3. Liver Damage: One of the severe complications is the development of cirrhosis of the liver, resulting from the toxic effects of accumulated galactose and its metabolites.
  4. Kidney Problems: Kidney function can also be affected, leading to various renal issues.
  5. Brain Development: The brain may not mature properly, leading to developmental disabilities. This can affect cognitive, social, and motor skills.
  6. Motor Skills and Muscle Issues: Children might experience problems with motor skills and muscle function, including delayed speech development.
  7. Reproductive Health Issues in Girls: Females with galactosemia may experience irregular menstrual periods and reduced ovarian function, often leading to premature ovarian insufficiency and infertility.
  8. Mental Disability: Cognitive impairments and mental disabilities are possible due to the effects of the condition on brain development.
  9. Risk of Severe Infection: There is an increased risk of severe bacterial infections, such as E. coli sepsis.
  10. Risk of Death: If galactose is not removed from the diet, the accumulation of toxic substances can lead to life-threatening complications.

Early diagnosis and dietary management, primarily the exclusion of galactose from the diet, are crucial in preventing these complications and supporting the health and development of children with galactosemia. Regular medical follow-up and supportive therapies can also play a significant role in managing the condition and improving the quality of life for affected individuals.


In the United States, newborns undergo routine screening for galactosemia as part of the standard newborn screening process. This involves a blood test typically obtained through a heel prick. If galactosemia is suspected, additional tests may be conducted to confirm the diagnosis:

  1. Urine Tests: To check for abnormal substances that might indicate a problem with galactose metabolism.
  2. Other Blood Tests: These can include various tests to assess liver function, check for infections, and evaluate the levels of sugars and other metabolites in the blood.
  3. Genetic Tests: These tests identify mutations in the genes associated with galactosemia, such as the GALT gene for classic galactosemia.

Specific tests for diagnosing galactosemia include:

– Blood Culture for Bacterial Infection (E. coli Sepsis): This test is done to check for bacterial infections, which newborns with galactosemia are at higher risk for.

– Enzyme Activity in Red Blood Cells: This test measures the activity of enzymes involved in galactose metabolism, such as galactose-1-phosphate uridyl transferase in classic galactosemia.

– Ketones in the Urine: The presence of ketones in the urine can indicate a metabolic disorder.

– Prenatal Diagnosis: This involves measuring the activity of the enzyme galactose-1-phosphate uridyl transferase in the fetus, often through amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling.

– “Reducing Substances” in the Infant’s Urine: This test checks for substances that indicate an inability to fully break down sugars like lactose. It’s often done alongside measuring blood sugar levels, especially when the infant is being fed breast milk or lactose-containing formula.

These diagnostic tests are crucial for early detection and management of galactosemia. Early intervention, including dietary modifications, can significantly reduce the risk of complications associated with the disorder.

Genetic testing

Genetic testing plays a crucial role in the diagnosis and management of galactosemia, both before and after birth:

  1. Prenatal Genetic Testing: This testing can be performed on samples obtained through chorionic villus sampling (CVS) or amniocentesis. In CVS, a small sample of tissue is taken from the placenta, whereas amniocentesis involves collecting a sample of amniotic fluid. These tests analyze the fetal DNA for mutations in the GALT gene, helping to determine the likelihood of the fetus having galactosemia. Prenatal genetic testing is particularly valuable for expectant parents with a family history of galactosemia or those identified as carriers of galactosemia gene mutations.
  2. Postnatal Genetic Testing: After a baby is born, if screening tests or other diagnostic evaluations suggest a GALT enzyme deficiency, genetic testing can confirm the diagnosis. This testing identifies the specific type of GALT gene mutation present in the infant. Knowing the exact mutation is important for understanding the form of galactosemia the child has (classic, Duarte variant, etc.), which influences the management and prognosis of the condition.

Genetic testing for galactosemia enables accurate diagnosis and appropriate intervention, helping to guide dietary and medical management. It’s also a vital tool for genetic counseling, helping families understand the risk of galactosemia in future pregnancies and the implications for family planning.


Galactosemia is a genetic disorder caused by mutations in specific genes that encode enzymes crucial for breaking down galactose, a sugar found in lactose. These mutations lead to a deficiency or dysfunction of these enzymes, resulting in the accumulation of galactose and its byproducts in the blood and tissues, which can cause cell and organ damage. The condition is categorized into different types based on the affected gene:

  1. Classic Galactosemia (Type I): This most common form of galactosemia is caused by mutations in the GALT gene. It leads to a deficiency in the enzyme galactose-1-phosphate uridyltransferase (GALT). This liver enzyme is essential for converting galactose into glucose. When this enzyme is missing or not functional, galactose and its byproducts, such as galactose-1-phosphate, accumulate in the body, affecting various organs and tissues.
  2. Galactosemia Type II: Caused by mutations in the GALK1 gene, this type results in a deficiency in the enzyme galactokinase. This enzyme is involved in an earlier step of galactose metabolism compared to the GALT enzyme.
  3. Galactosemia Type III: This type is due to mutations in the GALE gene, leading to a deficiency in the enzyme UDP-galactose-4′-epimerase. Like the enzymes produced from the GALT and GALK1 genes, the GALE enzyme plays a crucial role in processing galactose.

In all types of galactosemia, the lack of these critical enzymes prevents the normal breakdown of galactose, causing its accumulation along with related compounds to toxic levels. This buildup damages tissues and organs, leading to the symptoms and complications associated with the disorder. The severity and specific symptoms can vary depending on the type of galactosemia and the extent of enzyme deficiency.


Classic galactosemia is indeed a rare genetic metabolic disorder. In this condition, the body is unable to properly metabolize galactose, a sugar found in milk and other dairy products. The inheritance of classic galactosemia follows an autosomal recessive pattern. This means that for a child to be affected, they must inherit two mutated genes, one from each parent. Both parents are carriers, but they typically do not show symptoms of the disorder themselves.

There’s also a variant known as Duarte galactosemia. In this variant, a child receives one gene for classic galactosemia from one parent and a Duarte variant gene from the other parent. The Duarte variant is a different form of the gene that leads to a less severe version of galactosemia compared to the classic type. Children with Duarte galactosemia usually have milder symptoms and may have a different treatment approach.

Carrier Detection

Molecular genetic testing. Carrier testing for at-risk relatives requires prior identification of the GALT pathogenic variants in the family.

Biochemical genetic testing. Carrier testing is done by measuring erythrocyte GALT enzyme activity.

Risk Factor

Absolutely. The genetic defect responsible for Galactosemia is inherited in a recessive manner. This means that the presence of the faulty gene doesn’t necessarily lead to the development of the condition unless an individual inherits two copies of this gene, one from each parent. In situations where both parents are carriers of this defective gene, they usually do not exhibit symptoms of Galactosemia themselves. However, their children are at risk. With each pregnancy, there is a 25% chance that their child will inherit two copies of the defective gene and thus be born with Galactosemia. Additionally, there is a 50% probability that the child will inherit just one copy of the defective gene, making them a carrier like their parents, without showing symptoms of the disease. This pattern of inheritance highlights the importance of genetic testing and counseling for at-risk couples.


The treatment for galactosemia is indeed focused on dietary management, primarily through the strict avoidance of lactose and galactose. Individuals with this condition cannot properly metabolize galactose due to a deficiency in a specific enzyme. Unfortunately, as of now, there is no available chemical or drug that can substitute for this missing enzyme.

For infants diagnosed with galactosemia, it is crucial to eliminate lactose from their diet immediately. This typically involves replacing breast milk or cow’s milk-based formulas with soy formula, which does not contain lactose. It’s important to note that milk-based formulas labeled as “lactose-free” are still unsuitable for these infants, as they may still contain galactose.

As children with classic galactosemia grow, they must continue to avoid dairy products. Their diet may also need to be modified to exclude certain fruits, vegetables, and candies that contain galactose. Additionally, to compensate for nutrients commonly found in dairy products, doctors may recommend vitamin and mineral supplements, including calcium, vitamin C, vitamin D, and vitamin K.

Children with milder forms of galactosemia, where the enzymes responsible for breaking down galactose are partially functioning, might be able to tolerate some dairy products in their diet.

Overall, with careful dietary management and ongoing medical supervision, most children with galactosemia can lead normal lives, despite the challenges posed by the condition. Medical advances continue to improve the quality of life for those affected by galactosemia.

Genetic counseling is recommended for families with children who have galactosemia.


Certainly! The primary approach to managing galactosemia involves a rigorous dietary regimen that excludes lactose and galactose. This is because individuals with galactosemia lack the necessary enzyme to effectively process galactose, a sugar commonly found in dairy products. Currently, there is no medicinal substitute or chemical alternative available to replace this missing enzyme.

For newborns diagnosed with galactosemia, it is essential to immediately eliminate lactose from their diet. Typically, this means substituting breast milk or cow’s milk-based formulas with soy-based formulas, which are devoid of lactose. It’s crucial to understand that formulas marketed as “lactose-free” but derived from milk are not suitable for infants with galactosemia, as they may still contain traces of galactose.

As children with classic galactosemia age, maintaining a diet free from dairy products remains imperative. Their diet may also need to be adjusted to avoid specific fruits, vegetables, and sweets that contain galactose. Furthermore, to ensure they receive all necessary nutrients, supplementation with vitamins and minerals like calcium, vitamin C, vitamin D, and vitamin K is often recommended by healthcare professionals.

In cases of milder galactosemia, where the enzyme that metabolizes galactose is partially active, some level of dairy consumption might be permissible. However, this should always be monitored and guided by medical advice.

With diligent dietary management and continued advancements in medical care, most individuals with galactosemia are able to lead healthy, normal lives. The condition, while challenging, can be effectively managed with proper guidance and ongoing medical support.

Pregnancy Management

In the context of galactosemia management during pregnancy, the dietary recommendations vary based on the individual’s condition:

  1. Affected Women: Women diagnosed with classic or clinical variant galactosemia are advised to adhere to a diet that restricts lactose intake throughout their pregnancy. This dietary measure is crucial for managing their condition during this period.
  2. Carrier Females: For women who are carriers of the galactosemia gene mutation (heterozygous for a pathogenic variant in the GALT gene) but do not exhibit the disease themselves, the situation is different. Current evidence does not indicate any benefit to the health of children born with classic or clinical variant galactosemia if their mothers, who are carriers, follow a lactose-restricted diet during pregnancy. As a result, these carrier females, although genetically linked to the condition, are not required to follow a lactose-restricted diet while pregnant. Their status as carriers does not necessitate dietary restrictions for the health of their unborn child in the context of galactosemia.


Understanding your family’s medical history is indeed vital, especially concerning genetic conditions like galactosemia. If you know that galactosemia runs in your family and you’re considering starting a family, it’s highly advisable to seek genetic counseling. Such counseling can provide invaluable guidance and information, assisting you in making informed decisions about pregnancy and the options for prenatal testing. This proactive approach allows for a better understanding of the risks and implications for your future children.

Additionally, once galactosemia is diagnosed in a family member, it is recommended that other family members also undergo genetic counseling. This is because galactosemia is a hereditary condition, and understanding the genetic risks can be crucial for other family members who might be carriers or at risk of having affected children. Genetic counseling in this context can offer essential insights into the likelihood of passing the condition to future generations and help in planning for any necessary medical interventions or lifestyle adjustments.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Early diagnosis and strict adherence to a diet that eliminates milk products and other lactose-containing foods are crucial for individuals with galactosemia. This dietary management is key to leading a relatively normal life while managing the condition. By avoiding lactose, many of the severe complications associated with galactosemia can be prevented or minimized.

Living With

For individuals living with galactosemia, adhering to a galactose-free diet is essential for maintaining health. This dietary discipline can be challenging, and many adults find it beneficial to join support communities. These communities provide a platform to exchange galactose-free recipes and offer an environment for social support, which can be especially valuable for those experiencing long-term symptoms of galactosemia.

Adults with galactosemia often need to engage more frequently with their healthcare providers for regular check-ups and assessments. These periodic evaluations are crucial for monitoring the disease’s progression and any related complications. Key assessments may include:

  1. Eye Testing: Regular eye exams are necessary to check for the development of cataracts, a common complication associated with galactosemia.
  2. Neurological Assessments: These are important for evaluating executive function and detecting signs of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), tremors, or ataxia, which can be associated with the disease.
  3. Bone Density Screenings: These screenings help in detecting calcium and mineral deficiencies, which are risks due to the dietary restrictions necessary for managing galactosemia.
  4. Hormone Testing: For individuals assigned female at birth, hormone testing is essential as galactosemia can impact hormonal development and reproductive health.

Regular monitoring through these assessments allows for the early detection and treatment of any deficiencies or complications. This proactive approach is crucial in preventing the progression of symptoms and maintaining overall health in adults with galactosemia.

What Else Should I Know?

Early diagnosis and treatment of galactosemia are crucial as they can significantly improve health outcomes. Timely intervention can help reverse the development of cataracts, support normal growth, and alleviate liver and kidney problems associated with the condition. However, even with diligent dietary management, children with galactosemia may face several challenges:

  1. Weak Bones: Due to dietary restrictions, particularly the limitation of dairy products which are a primary source of calcium, children with galactosemia may have lower bone density.
  2. Speech and Learning Problems: Some children with galactosemia may experience difficulties in speech and learning, which necessitates additional educational and developmental support.
  3. Ovarian Failure: For those assigned female at birth, there’s a risk of ovarian failure, which can manifest as delayed puberty, irregular menstrual cycles, or amenorrhea (absence of menstruation), and challenges with fertility.

Given these potential issues, regular medical supervision is essential. Healthcare providers will monitor the child’s growth and development, perform regular eye examinations to check for cataracts, and measure blood galactose levels to ensure effective management of the condition.

Moreover, because galactosemia is a hereditary disorder, genetic counseling is highly recommended. This counseling can provide valuable insights for family planning and understanding how gal

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

  • Which type of Galactosemia do I have? Type I? Type II? Or Type III?
  • What kinds of testing do I need to have?
  • Do other members in my family need to be tested?
  • What kinds of foods should I be eating?
  • Is it possible to be connected to dietitian or someone whom can assist with meal planning?
  • Do all my symptoms correspond with galactosemia or is it possible to have other kinds of GI or liver related problems?

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