Maple syrup urine disease is a genetic disorder in which the body cannot break down certain amino acids. Learn more about this condition.

We all know how important protein is for our bodies. It provides energy and helps us grow, breaks down food, and repairs body tissue, among other critical functions.

  • Amino acids are organic compounds that combine to create protein. So what happens when the body is unable to process some of these amino acids?

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The answer is maple syrup urine disease (MSUD), a genetic disorder in which the body cannot break down certain amino acids, leaving toxic chemicals in the blood. This condition is found most often in babies and children.

Signs and Symptoms of Maple Syrup Urine Disease

The symptoms and severity of MSUD vary from child to child. The most noticeable symptom is the strong and sweet odor similar to maple syrup that develops in the urine. Other common symptoms of MSUD include:

  • Poor appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting

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Treatment for Maple Syrup Urine Disease

When MSUD is detected during a newborn’s screening, treatment must start right away. For some children, the disease can be controlled with a very strict diet. But a liver transplant is increasingly considered the best treatment option.

Diet for Children with MSUD

Since a child with MSUD is unable to process amino acids, a protein-restricted diet is very important. Even when the strictest diet is followed, complications can occur. Certain illnesses or situations can raise levels of amino acids, leading to:

  • Brain damage
  • Coma
  • Mental disability
  • Death

Liver Transplant for Maple Syrup Urine Disease

In addition to a strict diet, a liver transplant can help manage and possibly cure MSUD.

The new liver helps supply the body with the enzymes needed to break down amino acids and process protein normally. Many children with MSUD who receive a liver transplant can live a normal, healthy life— and may even be able to eat protein-rich foods.

While a liver transplant can be life changing for a child with MSUD, it can be a very long and difficult process. Due to the shortage of organs, the wait for a liver to become available can take months to years.

How Can You Help?

You can give hope to children with MSUD and others who are waiting for a liver transplant by registering as an organ donor or becoming a living donor.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

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