Health Information



Refsum Disease

National Organization for Rare Disorders, Inc.


It is possible that the main title of the report Refsum Disease is not the name you expected. Please check the synonyms listing to find the alternate name(s) and disorder subdivision(s) covered by this report.


  • Refsum Disease
  • Phytanic Acid Storage Disease
  • Hypertrophic Neuropathy of Refsum
  • Heredopathia Atactica Polyneuritiformis
  • DOC 11 (Phytanic Acid Type)
  • Disorder of Cornification 11 (Phytanic Acid Type)

Disorder Subdivisions

  • None

General Discussion

Refsum disease is one of a family of genetic disorders known as the leukodystrophies in which, as a consequence of the disruption of lipid metabolism, the myelin sheath that insulates and protects the nerves of the brain fails to grow. It is inherited as an autosomal recessive trait. It is characterized by progressive loss of vision (retinitis pigmentosa); degenerative nerve disease (peripheral neuropathy); failure of muscle coordination (ataxia); and dry, rough, scaly skin (ichthyosis).

The disorder is caused by the accumulation of a particular fatty acid (phytanic acid) in blood plasma and tissues. This occurs because of a malfunction of the gene that makes the enzyme that breaks down (metabolizes) this acid. The essential enzyme is absent.

Treatment with a diet low in foods that contain phytanic acid can be beneficial. Our bodies cannot make phytanic acid. Instead, it is introduced to the body in certain foods, including dairy products, beef, lamb and some seafood.


CLIMB (Children Living with Inherited Metabolic Diseases)

Climb Building

176 Nantwich Road

Crewe, CW2 6BG

United Kingdom

Tel: 4408452412173

Fax: 4408452412174



Foundation Fighting Blindness

7168 Columbia Gateway Drive, Suite 100

Columbia, MD 21046

Tel: (410)423-0600

Fax: (410)872-0574

Tel: (800)683-5555

TDD: (800)683-5551



Foundation for Ichthyosis & Related Skin Types

2616 N Broad Street

Colmar, PA 18915

Tel: (215)997-9400

Fax: (215)997-9403

Tel: (800)545-3286



Lighthouse International

111 E 59th St

New York, NY 10022-1202

Tel: (800)829-0500



Retinitis Pigmentosa International

P.O. Box 900

Woodland Hills, CA 91365

Tel: (818)992-0500

Fax: (818)992-3265

Tel: (800)344-4877



United Leukodystrophy Foundation

224 N. 2nd St.

Suite 2

DeKalb, IL 60115

Tel: (815)748-3211

Tel: (800)728-5483



ELA - European Association Against Leukodystrophies

2, rue Mi-les-Vignes


Laxou Cedex, 61024


Tel: 33383309334

Fax: 33383300068



NIH/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

P.O. Box 5801

Bethesda, MD 20824

Tel: (301)496-5751

Fax: (301)402-2186

Tel: (800)352-9424

TDD: (301)468-5981


National Registry for Ichthyosis and Related Disorders

University of Washington

Dermatology Dept. Box 356524

1959 N.E. Pacific Street

Seattle, WA 98195-6524

Tel: (800)595-1265



Hunter's Hope Foundation, Inc.

PO Box 643

6368 West Quaker Street

Orchard Park, NY 14127

Tel: (716)667-1200

Fax: (716)667-1212

Tel: (877)984-4673



Genetic and Rare Diseases (GARD) Information Center

PO Box 8126

Gaithersburg, MD 20898-8126

Tel: (301)251-4925

Fax: (301)251-4911

Tel: (888)205-2311

TDD: (888)205-3223


Madisons Foundation

PO Box 241956

Los Angeles, CA 90024

Tel: (310)264-0826

Fax: (310)264-4766



Let Them Hear Foundation

1900 University Avenue, Suite 101

East Palo Alto, CA 94303

Tel: (650)462-3174

Fax: (650)462-3144



Zellweger Baby Support Network

9310 Groundhog Drive

Richmond, VA 23235

Tel: (605)642-2072

Fax: (605)642-7525



Retina International

Ausstellungsstrasse 36




Tel: 410444441077

Fax: 410444441070



Perkins School for the Blind

175 North Beacon Street

Watertown, MA 02472

Tel: (617)924-3434

Fax: (617)926-2027



National Consortium on Deaf-Blindness

The Teaching Research Institute

345 N. Monmouth Avenue

Monmouth, OR 97361

Tel: (800)438-9376

Fax: (503)838-8150

Tel: (800)438-9376

TDD: (800)854-7013



For a Complete Report

This is an abstract of a report from the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD). A copy of the complete report can be downloaded free from the NORD website for registered users. The complete report contains additional information including symptoms, causes, affected population, related disorders, standard and investigational therapies (if available), and references from medical literature. For a full-text version of this topic, go to and click on Rare Disease Database under "Rare Disease Information".

The information provided in this report is not intended for diagnostic purposes. It is provided for informational purposes only. NORD recommends that affected individuals seek the advice or counsel of their own personal physicians.

It is possible that the title of this topic is not the name you selected. Please check the Synonyms listing to find the alternate name(s) and Disorder Subdivision(s) covered by this report

This disease entry is based upon medical information available through the date at the end of the topic. Since NORD's resources are limited, it is not possible to keep every entry in the Rare Disease Database completely current and accurate. Please check with the agencies listed in the Resources section for the most current information about this disorder.

For additional information and assistance about rare disorders, please contact the National Organization for Rare Disorders at P.O. Box 1968, Danbury, CT 06813-1968; phone (203) 744-0100; web site or email

Last Updated:  2/21/2008

Copyright  1987, 1988, 1990, 1993, 1995, 2004 National Organization for Rare Disorders, Inc.

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