Overview

Porphyria (por-FEAR-e-uh) refers to a group of disorders that result from a buildup of natural chemicals that produce porphyrin in your body. Porphyrins are essential for the function of hemoglobin — a protein in your red blood cells that links to porphyrin, binds iron, and carries oxygen to your organs and tissues. High levels of porphyrins can cause significant problems.

There are two general categories of porphyria: acute, which mainly affects the nervous system, and cutaneous, which mainly affects the skin. Some types of porphyria have both nervous system symptoms and skin symptoms.

Signs and symptoms of porphyria vary, depending on the specific type and severity. Porphyria is usually inherited — one or both parents pass along an abnormal gene to their child.

Although porphyria can't be cured, certain lifestyle changes to avoid triggering symptoms may help you manage it. Treatment for symptoms depends on the type of porphyria you have.