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.

Medical treatments for elevated blood ammonia level

There are several ways to remove excess ammonia from the blood including:

  • Dialysis (artificial filtering of the blood), using devices such as artificial livers or dialysis in a hospital setting
  • Kidney or liver transplant (in very severe cases)
  • Medications to convert ammonia into another molecule, such as L-ornithine-L-aspartate
  • Medications to reduce the amount of ammonia in the blood or gastrointestinal tract, such as special sugars (lactulose) or antibiotics (neomycin)

What are the potential complications of elevated blood ammonia level?

Because an elevated blood ammonia level is the result of waste building up in the blood stream, it can damage your internal organs or brain tissue. Complications of untreated or poorly controlled elevated blood ammonia level can be serious, even life threatening in some cases. It is very important to carefully follow your doctor’s recommended treatment plan to minimize your risk of serious complications. Complications of elevated blood ammonia level include:

  • Dementia
  • Encephalopathy
  • Organ failure, such as liver or kidney
  • Swelling (edema)
  • Unconsciousness and coma

References:

  1. Ammonia. Lab Tests Online. http://www.labtestsonline.org/understanding/analytes/ammonia/test.html.
  2. Hereditary urea cycle abnormality. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000372.htm.
  3. Bope ET, Kellerman RD (Eds.) Conn’s Current Therapy. Philadelphia: Saunders, 2013.
  4. Domino FJ (Ed.) Five Minute Clinical Consult. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2013.
INTRODUCTION

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 elevat... Read more about elevated blood ammonia levelintroduction

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 m... 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 live... Read more about elevated blood ammonia levelcauses

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: May 7, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 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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