Gaucher disease affects an estimated 1 in 50,000 to 1 in 100,000 people in the general population. Persons of Eastern and Central European (Ashkenazi) Jewish heritage are at highest risk for the disease.
It is an autosomal recessive disease. This means that the mother and father must both pass one abnormal copy of the gene to the child in order for the child to develop the disease. A parent who silently carries an abnormal copy of the gene is called a carrier.
The lack of the glucocerebrosidase enzyme causes harmful substances to build up in the liver, spleen, bones, and bone marrow. The substances prevent cells and organs from working properly.
There are three main subtypes of Gaucher disease:
Type 1 disease is most common. It involves bone disease, anemia, an enlarged spleen and thrombocytopenia. Type I affects both children and adults. It is most common in the Ashkenazi Jewish population.
Type 2 disease usually begins in infancy with severe neurologic involvement. This form can lead to rapid, early death.
Type 3 disease may cause liver, spleen, and brain problems. Patients may live into adulthood.
Symptoms vary depending on the type of disease, but may include:
Genetic counseling is recommended for prospective parents with a family history of Gaucher disease. Testing can determine if parents carry the gene that could pass on the Gaucher disease. A prenatal test can also tell if the fetus has Gaucher syndrome.
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Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.