Fatty-Acid Oxidation Disorder: Symptoms, Treatment & Prognosis

Instructor: Dan Washmuth

Dan has taught college Nutrition, Anatomy, Physiology, and Sports Nutrition courses and has a master's degree in Dietetics & Nutrition.

Fatty-acid oxidation disorder is a condition in which the body cannot properly use fats as an energy source. This lesson will provide the reader with a crash course on this disorder, including its symptoms, treatment, and prognosis.

When Fats Attack

Anne, a 30-year-old nurse, recently gave birth to her first baby, a girl named Olivia. When Olivia was about four months old, Anne noticed that her behavior was starting to change. Olivia was becoming extra fussy, she seemed tired all the time, and she had developed a low-grade fever. Worried about these symptoms, Anne took Olivia to the hospital to get her checked out. At the hospital, doctors took Olivia through several tests as Anne nervously watched and waited. After reviewing the test results, a doctor informed Anne that Olivia had a fatty-acid oxidation disorder.

Many foods that you eat contain fat (avocados, meats, olives, cheese, etc.), and these fats are made up of fatty-acids. Fatty-acid oxidation is the process in which these fatty-acids are broken down by enzymes so the body can use them for energy. This process usually occurs when a person hasn't eaten for a long period of time (after about 12-24 hours of not eating).

The body breaks down fatty acids found in foods to make energy through a process called fatty-acid oxidation.
fatty foods

Fatty-acid oxidation disorder is a genetic condition in which the enzymes used to break down fatty-acids for energy are either missing or not functional. Therefore, people with fatty-acid oxidation disorder are not able to properly break down fatty-acids and use them for energy, leading to an accumulation of fatty-acids in the body. This condition is usually diagnosed during infancy or early childhood.


As we just discussed, fatty-acid oxidation disorder causes an accumulation of fatty-acids in the body because the body cannot break them down for energy. The accumulation of fatty-acids can cause various symptoms, which include:

  • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar level)
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fussiness
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite

Some cases of fatty-acid oxidation disorder can cause very serious health problems, such as heart failure, liver failure, rhabdomyolysis (the breakdown and destruction of muscle tissue, which can lead to kidney damage), and even death.

Symptoms of fatty-acid oxidation disorder can include fatigue, fever, and nausea.

Treatment & Prognosis

Since fatty-acid oxidation most often takes place when a person hasn't eaten for a long period of time, treatment of fatty-acid oxidation disorder includes making sure a person eats every few hours. Additionally, a person should consume a diet that is high in carbohydrates and low in fat in order to limit the amount of fatty-acids in the body. The prognosis of fatty-acid oxidation disorder is usually excellent if the condition is diagnosed early in life and treated effectively through proper nutrition.

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