Ammonia is a waste product that results from breakdown of protein. This is a toxic product. But in a normal person ammonia is converted to urea a non poisonous substance by liver. Urea is then excreted from the body through urine. The level of ammonia elevates when the kidneys or liver are not working properly. Thus the waste accumulates in the bloodstream which becomes toxic to each and every body cell.
High ammonia level in bloodstream can occur in any person including children. In infants and children it can occur as a result of genetic abnormality, Reye’s syndrome etc. Raised level can cause damage to brain producing confusion and delirium. In more serious cases it can lead to loss of consciousness, coma and even death.
Cause Of Elevated Ammonia Level In Blood In Children
Blood ammonia is a test that is generally recommended by physicians when they suspect rise of ammonia in blood.Ammonia is natural waste product that is formed when protein is digested by bacteria in the intestine. It is than processed by liver and converted into urea a non toxic substance.
If this process is interrupted, ammonia gets accumulated in the blood which than passes to brain affecting its normal function. Here are some of the causes that may give rise to high ammonia level in children.
- Genetic abnormality can produce a condition called urea cycle disorder. In this condition there is absence of an enzyme since birth which is required by liver to process ammonia into urea. The condition is called urea cycle disorder, which generally develops within one day after birth of the infant. Symptoms include irritability, seizures, vomiting etc. Urea cycle disorder occurs when the child inherits one defective gene from both parents. The condition is incurable, and treatment consists of low protein diet as the child grows up with medications to flush out excess of ammonia from blood.
- Hemolytic disease in newborn can be a cause for elevated ammonia in blood. This occurs due to incompatibility between the child’s and mother’s blood. Specifically there is rhesus (Rh factor) incompatibility.
- Reye’s syndrome is a rare but serious and sometimes fatal condition that may give rise to high level of ammonia in blood. This condition causes damage to brain, liver and kidney. Most often the condition is caused due to reaction of a drug called aspirin. Use of aspirin during viral fever is suspected to produce this syndrome in children and teenagers. Reye’s syndrome is often fatal condition. Thus aspirin is avoided in children. An increase in level of ammonia and decrease in blood sugar level in symptomatic children is an indication for Reye syndrome.
- Since liver is the main organ which processes ammonia, any type of liver damage can lead to accumulation of ammonia in the blood. The level of ammonia is also elevated due to kidney failure. Due to renal failure urea is not excreted out from the system leading to accumulation of ammonia in the blood. Bleeding in gastrointestinal tract can also raise the level of ammonia in blood.