Von Gierke disease is a condition in which the body cannot break down glycogen for energy. Gycogen is stored in the liver and muscles and is normally broken down into glucose when you do not eat.
Von Gierke disease is also called Type I glycogen storage disease (GSD I).
Type I glycogen storage disease
Von Gierke disease occurs when the body lacks the protein (enzyme) that releases glucose from glycogen. This causes abnormal amounts of glycogen to build up in certain tissues. When glycogen is not broken down properly, it leads to low blood sugar.
Von Gierke disease is inherited, which means it is passed down through families. If both parents carry the defective gene related to this condition, each of their children has a 25% chance of developing the disease.
Constant hunger and need to eat often
Easy bruising and nosebleeds
Puffy cheeks, thin chest and limbs, and swollen belly
Exams and Tests
The health care provider will perform a physical exam.
Testing reveals low blood sugar and high levels of lactate, lipids, and uric acid.
The goal of treatment is to avoid low blood sugar. Eat frequently during the day, especially foods that contain carbohydrates (starches). Older children and adults may take cornstarch by mouth.
In some children, a feeding tube is placed through the nose into the stomach to provide sugars or uncooked cornstarch throughout the night. The tube can be put in at bedtime and taken out each morning.
A medication called allopurinol can lower blood uric acid and decrease the risk for gout. Other medications may include those for kidney disease, high lipids, and to increase the cells that fight infection.
Persons with von Gierke disease cannot properly break down fruit or milk sugar. It is best to avoid these products.
Since treatments have been developed, growth, puberty, and quality of life have improved for people with von Gierke disease. Those who are identified and carefully treated at a young age can live into adulthood.
Early treatment also decreases the rate of severe problems such as:
Call your health care provider if you have a family history of glycogen storage disease or early infant death due to low blood sugar.
There is no simple way to prevent glycogen storage disease.
Couples who wish to have a baby may seek genetic counseling and testing to determine their risk for passing on von Gierke disease.
Laforet P, Weinstein DA, Peter G, Smit A. The glycogen storage diseases and related disorders. In: Saudubray JM, van den Berghe G, Walter JH, eds. Inborn Metabolic Diseases: Diagnosis and Treatment. 5th ed. New York, NY: Springer; 2012:chap 6.
Chad Haldeman-Englert, MD, FACMG, Wake Forest School of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, Section on Medical Genetics, Winston-Salem, NC. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.