What is an elevated blood ammonia level?

Ammonia is a nitrogen waste compound that is normally excreted in the urine. An elevated blood ammonia level is an excessive accumulation of ammonia in the blood. An elevated blood ammonia level occurs when the kidneys or liver are not working properly, allowing waste to remain in the bloodstream. Ammonia, like many other waste products in the body, can be poisonous to your cells, and an elevated blood ammonia level can affect your entire body.

Elevated blood ammonia can affect a person at any age and happens for a variety of reasons. It is fairly common in infants, in whom the disease can be related to a genetic condition. In children, it may be related to Reye’s syndrome, while in adults, an elevated blood ammonia level may indicate kidney or liver damage or an underlying metabolic disease. In some cases, an elevated blood ammonia level will resolve on its own without treatment.

In addition to an increased level of ammonia in the blood, other symptoms of elevated blood ammonia include muscle weakness, fatigue, or other symptoms of liver and kidney damage and failure. If left untreated, elevated blood ammonia can affect brain tissue, leading to symptoms such as confusion and delirium (rapid change in cognitive function).

An elevated blood ammonia level may also be related to drug or alcohol abuse. Treatment for an elevated blood ammonia level varies depending on the cause. If related to drug or alcohol abuse, treating the underlying cause may resolve the elevated blood ammonia level. Treatment includes medication, dialysis, or organ (kidney or liver) transplant.

Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have serious symptoms, such as sudden confusion or loss of consciousness for even a brief moment, and sudden changes in mood, personality or behavior.

Seek prompt medical care if you are being treated for elevated blood ammonia level and your symptoms recur or are persistent.

SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of elevated blood ammonia level?

Symptoms of elevated blood ammonia level are related to decreased kidney or liver function. When waste products, such as ammonia, build up in the blood, they can circulate throughout the body and act as toxins. Elevated blood ammonia level is typically a progressive condition. At its onset, you may not notice any symptoms at all, or you may have only mild symptoms. As the disease worsens, you may experience more symptoms or symptoms of increased severity.... Read more about elevated blood ammonia levelsymptoms

CAUSES

What causes elevated blood ammonia?

Elevated blood ammonia may be related to a variety of conditions, including hereditary disorders or damage to the liver or kidneys. Elevated blood ammonia levels are occasionally seen in infants and children, and can be related to a hereditary condition or Reye’s syndrome (condition characterized by brain and liver swelling and dysfunction). In adults, causes vary and can include kidney or liver damage, drug and alcohol abuse, and gastrointestinal bleeding.... Read more about elevated blood ammonia levelcauses

TREATMENTS

How is elevated blood ammonia level treated?

In some cases, especially in infants, elevated blood ammonia level may be mild enough that it will resolve on its own without any treatment. In more serious cases, however, treatment is necessary because the buildup of ammonia in the bloodstream can have serious consequences. Treatment for elevated blood ammonia level is aimed at removing toxic body waste, such as ammonia, from the bloodstream. This can be accomplished through use of medications, dialysis or, in very serious cases, organ transplant.... Read more about elevated blood ammonia leveltreatments

Medical Reviewer: All content has been reviewed by board-certified physicians under the direction of Rich Klasco, M.D., FACEP. Last Annual Review Date: May 2, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Kidneys and the Urinary System


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