human with DNA graphic

What is LCHAD?

Long chain 3-hydroxyacyl-CoA dehydrogenase deficiency

A fatty acid oxidation disorder

Long-chain 3-hydroxyacyl-CoA dehydrogenase (LCHAD) deficiency is a rare condition that prevents the body from converting certain fats to energy, particularly during periods without food (fasting).

LCHAD occurs when an enzyme, called “long chain 3-hydroxyacyl-CoA dehydrogenase” (LCHAD), is either missing or not working properly. This enzyme’s job is to break down certain fats from the food we eat into energy. It also breaks down fat already stored in the body. Energy from fat keeps us going whenever our bodies run low of their main source of energy, a type of sugar called glucose. Our bodies rely on fat when we don’t eat for a stretch of time – like when we miss a meal or when we sleep.

When the normal LCHAD enzyme is missing or not working well, the body cannot break down fat for energy. Instead, it must rely solely on glucose. Although glucose is a good source of energy, there is a limited amount available. Once the glucose has been used up, the body tries to use fat without success. This leads to low blood sugar, called hypoglycemia, and to the build up of harmful substances in the blood. ​ Signs and symptoms of LCHAD deficiency typically appear during infancy or early childhood and can include feeding difficulties, lack of energy (lethargy), low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), weak muscle tone (hypotonia), liver problems, and abnormalities in the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye (retina). Later in childhood, people with this condition may experience muscle pain, breakdown of muscle tissue, and a loss of sensation in their arms and legs (peripheral neuropathy). Individuals with LCHAD deficiency are also at risk for serious heart problems, breathing difficulties, coma, and sudden death.

Problems related to LCHAD deficiency can be triggered by periods of fasting or by illnesses such as viral infections. This disorder is sometimes mistaken for Reye syndrome, a severe disorder that may develop in children while they appear to be recovering from viral infections such as chicken pox or flu. Most cases of Reye syndrome are associated with the use of aspirin during these viral infections.


The incidence of LCHAD deficiency is unknown. One estimate, based on a Finnish population, indicates that 1 in 62,000 pregnancies is affected by this disorder. In the United States, the incidence is probably much lower.

Gene Mutations

Mutations in the HADHA gene cause LCHAD deficiency. The HADHA gene provides instructions for making part of an enzyme complex called mitochondrial trifunctional protein. This enzyme complex functions in mitochondria, the energy-producing centers within cells. Mutations in the HADHA gene that cause LCHAD deficiency disrupt one of the functions of this enzyme complex. These mutations prevent the normal processing of long-chain fatty acids from food and body fat. As a result, these fatty acids are not converted to energy, which can lead to some features of this disorder, such as lethargy and hypoglycemia


This condition is inherited in an autosomal recessive pattern, which means both copies of the gene in each cell have mutations. The parents of an individual with an autosomal recessive condition each carry one copy of the mutated gene, but they typically do not show signs and symptoms of the condition.

diagram of LCHAD