The phrase porphyria cutanea tarda or PCT is a very technical term for an extreme sensitivity to sunlight. Those who have this condition can experience severe symptoms that can be life-threatening.

There are a few different causes of the condition and while it is rare, it is also very serious, but there are treatment options for sufferers. Consider a few simple facts about porphyria cutanea tarda so you can better understand its symptoms and causes and how to treat it if you’ve already received this diagnosis.

What are PCT symptoms and causes?

PCT is caused by a deficiency of a certain enzyme called heme that is normally created in the liver. In some cases this can be caused by an inherited gene mutation but in other cases it can be caused by external factors. As an example, veterans of wars that used the toxic substance called Agent Orange often develop PCT.

Those with the gene mutation that causes PCT do not always develop symptoms of the condition; HIV, hepatitis C, certain levels of estrogen, and alcohol abuse increase the risk of a person developing symptoms.

Liver disease and an excess of iron in the system can also increase this risk.

As far as symptoms, a patient’s hypersensitivity to sunlight when they have PCT results in blisters along with increased pigmentation, excessive hair growth, and actual thinning of the skin in affected areas. Itching and swelling is also common.

Those with extreme symptoms may develop paralysis, cramping, numbing, tingling, vomiting, and constipation when exposed to sunlight. They may also experience pain in the abdomen and back.

In very extreme cases a person can also experience personality changes and mood disorders. A person with PCT can also experience the increased risk of blisters forming on the skin after minor injuries. These may fill with pus and tiny cysts may form as the blisters heal.

Porphyria cutanea tarda treatment options

Reducing the risk of outbreaks is the first step in treating PCT. Many who have the condition find that covering their windows at home in a light-blocking film is helpful and they often wear long sleeves and use a shade umbrella when they do venture outside. Strong sunblock can also help.

Avoiding alcohol, estrogen, and iron is also important. A person with PCT may want to avoid red meat which is high in iron and abstain from alcohol altogether.

Injecting heme can help to lessen the symptoms of PCT. Taking blood to reduce levels of iron in the body can also reduce a person’s risk of developing the disease and its symptoms.

Certain medications can also help to manage the symptoms overall. For anyone with porphyria cutanea tarda it’s important that you avoid triggering symptoms as much as possible. Avoid direct sunlight and abstain from alcohol.

Blood is often taken every two weeks, so be sure you keep your appointments. Talk to your doctor about any outbreaks and be sure you have emergency medical information on hand at all times, as extreme symptoms may require hospitalization.