It may be December, but here in Florida, the sun is never far away. If your skin seems more sensitive to the sun than normal, or if you come home after a day outdoors with abdominal discomfort, you could have a condition called porphyria.
Board-certified gastroenterologist John Rivas, MD, is here to help you find answers. Specializing in diagnosing and treating patients experiencing abdominal and digestive symptoms, Dr. Rivas and the team at Rivas Digestive Center in Hollywood, Florida, help make sure your health concerns are addressed.
If you’re struggling with seemingly unconnected symptoms, like sun sensitivity and GI issues, understanding possible causes, like porphyria, can be your first step. Here’s a closer look at porphyria and why it can be about more than just the sun.
What is porphyria?
Porphyrins are a group of compounds that play a key role in your body’s ability to make heme. Heme is a key part of hemoglobin, which is responsible for carrying oxygen in your blood.
Porphyria is a group of disorders caused by an enzyme deficiency in your body’s heme production process. When there's an imbalance in this process, it results in the buildup of porphyrins.
This buildup can be toxic and affect many parts of the body, including your skin, nervous system, and other organs. The areas of your body affected depend on the type of porphyria you have.
Porphyria is rare, with fewer than 200,000 Americans affected by all types of the condition. The strongest risk factor involves a genetic mutation. Other risk factors are type-dependent and include:
- Sun exposure
- Hormonal imbalances
- Certain medications
- Extreme dietary changes
- Alcohol abuse
- Excess iron
- Certain viral infections
Symptoms vary based on the type of porphyria you have. Some of the most common include sun sensitivity, skin rashes, nerve-related issues, mental changes, urinary symptoms, and digestive symptoms.
What is the GI-porphyria connection?
Acute intermittent porphyria (AIP) is one of the forms of porphyria. This type of porphyria affects your liver. The liver is the main organ where heme production takes place.
With AIP, there's a deficiency or reduced activity of a specific enzyme needed to produce heme. This causes a buildup of the acids and other compounds needed to make heme.
The difficult part is that symptoms of AIP can be non-specific. They include a wide range of issues, including sun sensitivity and skin symptoms, mental symptoms (e.g., anxiety), neurological symptoms (e.g., muscle weakness), and urinary symptoms (e.g., incontinence).
AIP can also trigger problems related to the digestive system, including:
- Severe abdominal pain
It’s important to see a specialist who can accurately diagnose your condition. If you've been experiencing sun sensitivity, skin issues, and GI symptoms, don’t wait to seek help.
How is porphyria treated?
The first step in treating porphyria is an accurate diagnosis. Dr. Rivas evaluates your medical history, discusses your symptoms, and orders any testing needed to determine the cause of your discomfort.
AIP can be diagnosed using a urine test during an acute attack to measure the levels of certain indicators. A genetic test may also be used to help confirm your diagnosis.
There’s no cure for AIP, but Dr. Rivas can create a personalized treatment plan to help you manage the condition and control symptoms. This may include dietary changes, trigger avoidance, medications and injections to manage heme, and/or pain and nausea medicines.
If you’re worried about porphyria, Dr. Rivas and the Rivas Digestive Center team can answer your questions and address your concerns. Schedule an appointment online or over the phone at our offices in Hollywood, Florida.