By Mayo Clinic Staff

Phenylketonuria (fen-ul-ke-toe-NU-re-uh), also called PKU, is a rare inherited disorder that causes an amino acid called phenylalanine to build up in your body. PKU is caused by a defect in the gene that helps create the enzyme needed to break down phenylalanine.

Without the enzyme necessary to process phenylalanine, a dangerous buildup can develop when a person with PKU eats foods that are high in protein. This can eventually lead to serious health problems.

For the rest of their lives, people with PKU — babies, children and adults — need to follow a diet that limits phenylalanine, which is found mostly in foods that contain protein.

Babies in the United States and many other countries are screened for PKU soon after birth. Recognizing PKU right away can help prevent major health problems.

Nov. 26, 2014