Farber’s disease describes a group of inherited metabolic disorders called lipid storage diseases, in which excess amounts of lipids (oils, fatty acids, and related compounds) build up to harmful levels in the joints, tissues, and central nervous system. The liver, heart, and kidneys may also be affected. Symptoms are typically seen in the first few weeks of life and include impaired motor and mental ability and difficulty with swallowing. Other symptoms may include arthritis, swollen lymph nodes and joints, hoarseness, nodules under the skin (and sometimes in the lungs and other parts of the body), chronic shortening of muscles or tendons around joints, and vomiting. Affected persons may require the insertion of a breathing tube. In severe cases, the liver and spleen are enlarged. The disease occurs when both parents carry and pass on the defective gene that regulates the protein sphingomyelin. Children born to these parents have a 25 percent chance of inheriting the disorder and a 50 percent chance of carrying the faulty gene. The disorder affects both males and females.

Currently there is no specific treatment for Farber’s disease. Corticosteroids can help relieve pain. Nodes can be treated with bone marrow transplants, in certain instances, or may be surgically reduced or removed.

Most children with the classic form of Farber’s disease die by age 2, usually from lung disease. Individuals having a milder form of the disease may live into their teenage years.

Prepared by the National Institutes of Health