Metabolism is the process your body uses to get or make energy from the food you eat. Food is made up of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Chemicals in your digestive system break the food parts down into sugars and acids, your body’s fuel. Your body can use this fuel right away, or it can store the energy in your body tissues, such as your liver, muscles, and body fat.

A metabolic disorder occurs when abnormal chemical reactions in your body disrupt this process. When this happens, you might have too much of some substances or too little of other ones that you need to stay healthy. There are different groups of disorders. Some affect the breakdown of amino acids, carbohydrates, or lipids. Another group, mitochondrial diseases, affects the parts of the cells that produce the energy.

You can develop a metabolic disorder when some organs, such as your liver or pancreas, become diseased or do not function normally. Diabetes is an example.

Myoclonic epilepsy with ragged-red fibers (MERRF) is a disorder that affects many parts of the body, particularly the muscles and nervous system. In most cases, the signs and symptoms of this disorder appear during childhood or adolescence. The features of MERRF vary widely among affected individuals, even among members of the same family.MERRF is characterized by muscle twitches (myoclonus), weakness (myopathy), and progressive stiffness (spasticity). When the muscle cells of affected individuals are stained and viewed under a microscope, these cells usually appear abnormal. These abnormal muscle cells are called ragged-red fibers. Other features of MERRF include recurrent seizures (epilepsy), difficulty coordinating movements (ataxia), a loss of sensation in the extremities (peripheral neuropathy), and slow deterioration of intellectual function (dementia). People with this condition may also develop hearing loss or optic atrophy, which is the degeneration (atrophy) of nerve cells that carry visual information from the eyes to the brain. Affected individuals sometimes have short stature and a form of heart disease known as cardiomyopathy. Less commonly, people with MERRF develop fatty tumors, called lipomas, just under the surface of the skin.

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