Pronounced: go-shay disease
by Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Gaucher disease is a rare disease. It causes the abnormal storage of fatty substances. They build up in the bones, liver, lungs, spleen and sometimes the brain. There are three types of this disease. Each type affects the brain differently:
Gaucher disease is caused by a faulty gene. The gene limits the amount of a certain enzyme. The enzyme normally breaks down a fat called glucocerebroside. The faulty gene lowers this enzyme and some of this fat is not broken down the right way. As a result, the fat builds up.
Your risk may be higher if you are of Ashkenazi Jewish background. Your risk may also be raised if you have people in your family with this disease.
Symptoms differ from person to person and across the three types of the disease. Here are some common ones:
In general, the later the age at the start of symptoms, the less likely that they will be severe. People with type 1 may have mild health problems that are treatable. This type does not change the growth of the brain.
Type 2 appears within the first few months of life. Symptoms are mostly neurological, such as severe brain damage, seizures, and jerky muscle movements. Children with this type usually do not live past two years of age.
Type 3 tends to appear later in childhood. There are neurological symptoms but they are often not as severe as type 2. Symptoms also happen slowly over time. Children with type 3 can survive to become adults.
You will be asked about your child's symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. Blood tests will be done.
There is no cure. Type 1 can be managed by replacing the missing enzyme. This doesn’t affect the neurological symptoms found with type 2 and type 3. Supportive care is often the only option for these symptoms.
Here are some options:
Enzyme replacement therapy can bring enzymes up to normal levels to prevent fat build up. It is most useful for people with type 1. It may also help people with type 3 control non-neurological symptoms. This medicine can’t pass into the brain, so it is not useful for build up in the brain.
Substrate reduction therapy is a medicine that lowers the amount of glucocerebroside the body makes. This therapy may not be helpful for everyone.
Medicine for supportive care may be pain medicine or medicine to help maintain bones.
An enlarged spleen can lead to other health problems. It may need to be removed with a splenectomy.
Gaucher disease can’t be prevented. If you have Gaucher disease or have a family history of it, you can talk to a genetic counselor. They can help you find out the risk of Gaucher disease in your offspring.
National Gaucher Foundation
The National Gaucher Foundation of Canada
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Accessed June 6, 2016.
Last reviewed May 2018 by Kari Kassir, MD
Last Updated: 7/3/2018
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