For people with urea cycle disorders (UCDs), there are options to help control high ammonia levels. There are different types of UCD treatments and each person has different needs. Talk to your doctor to develop a plan that’s best for you.
One part of a urea cycle disorder treatment that your doctor may recommend is a low-protein diet. However, our bodies still need some protein to grow and stay healthy. In fact, eating too little protein can also be harmful because your muscles can start to break down. This process, called catabolism, can also cause ammonia levels to rise.
Amino acids are essential nutrients that are needed to grow and maintain your health. The body creates amino acids when it breaks down protein in your body. If you are on a low-protein diet, and eating less protein, your body may not be able to create enough amino acids. Supplements can fill the gap for the nutrients you would normally get from having more protein in your body. A dietitian can help decide which supplements may be right for you.
A low-protein diet and supplements may not always be enough to keep your ammonia levels low, and a treatment that gets rid of excess ammonia may be needed. Nitrogen-scavenger medicines (also called “ammonia scavengers”) help to remove ammonia from the bloodstream. Talk to your doctor about whether a nitrogen-scavenger medicine may be right for your UCD management plan.
A liver transplant can cure a UCD because a new liver has enzymes in the urea cycle that work the way they should. Like any surgical procedure, a transplant has risks. It’s also important to understand that a liver transplant can’t fix any UCD-related health problem that happened in your life before having the transplant.