The chemical processes that take place in the body are known collectively as metabolism. These processes are largely controlled by hormones, and either overproduction or underproduction of a particular hormone can have wide-ranging effects on the body’s internal chemistry. Metabolic disorders can also be caused by underlying conditions affecting major organs that regulate metabolism, such as the liver and the kidneys.
One important group of metabolic disorders is due to faulty or blocked chemical pathways, which cause the build-up of a chemical that is usually eliminated from the body. As the chemical accumulates, it may damage organs such as the brain and the liver. Many of these disorders, such as haemochromatosis, are due to genetic defects, some of which tend to run in families. If you have a close relative with one of these disorders, you may be at increased risk of developing the metabolic disorder yourself (see Gene disorders).
Most metabolic disorders can be diagnosed using blood or urine tests to measure levels of hormones or other specific chemicals. If the disorders are recognized early, they can sometimes be treated by a change in diet or the replacement of missing hormones or other chemicals. The sooner treatment is started, the better the prospects are for avoiding permanent damage.
The opening article in this section describes diabetes mellitus, the most common metabolic disorder. The next discusses hypoglycaemia, a condition sometimes associated with treatment for diabetes. The final articles cover disorders, including amyloidosis, in which abnormal levels of particular substances collect in the body.
Certain metabolic disorders are also disorders of particular endocrine (hormone-secreting) glands and are described elsewhere (see Pituitary gland disorders; Thyroid and parathyroid gland disorders; and Adrenal gland disorders).
From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.
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