Letters to the Editor

Hypocupremia in Patients After Gastric Bypass Surgery


Am Fam Physician. 2010 Jun 15;81(12):1411.

Original Article: Caring for Patients After Bariatric Surgery

Issue Date: April 15, 2006

Available at: https://www.aafp.org/afp/2006/0415/p1403.html

to the editor: In a society where obesity has taken on epidemic proportions, several therapeutic modalities have been developed to control this phenomenon. Bariatric surgery, the most aggressive and invasive treatment for obesity, has been shown to be effective in promoting weight loss. As Drs. Virji and Murr noted in their article on bariatric surgery, postoperative complications occur frequently. Metabolic disturbances are more common following surgeries that tend to produce more alteration in the gastrointestinal anatomy.1 For example, vitamin B12 and thiamine deficiencies are common after gastric bypass surgery. However, more rare metabolic deficiencies may arise as more of these surgeries are performed. One of these conditions is copper deficiency, also known as hypocupremia.

Copper is available in various food products including crab meat, fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and legumes.2 It is absorbed in the upper gastrointestinal tract through the duodenum and proximal jejunum.3 Copper is essential for hemoglobin synthesis, the development of connective tissue and bone, and neurologic function. Deficiency in copper may lead to vitamin B12 deficiency-like symptoms4; anemia and leukopenia with myelodysplastic manifestations; growth retardation; defective keratinization and pigmentation of the hair; neurodegenerative syndrome; mental deterioration; and scurvy-like changes in the skeleton. Symptoms may vary from mild and vague (e.g., fatigue, dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath) to more pronounced and serious (e.g., ataxia with severe gait disturbance, mental deterioration, respiratory arrest).

Treatment of hypocupremia consists of the prompt reversal of the deficiency with intravenous copper infusion, oral supplementation of copper, or both, depending on the severity of the condition. Although the hematologic manifestations, including pancytopenia and myelodysplasia, promptly improve with copper therapy,5 the neurologic improvement may show varying degrees of response depending on the duration and severity of the condition.6

Family physicians are expected to care for a growing number of patients after gastric bypass, and will likely encounter an increasing number of patients with hypocupremia. Prompt recognition and treatment of this condition is essential to prevent the development of permanent neurologic deficits.4,6

Author disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


show all references

1. Prodan CI, Bottomley SS, Vincent AS, et al. Copper deficiency after gastric surgery: a reason for caution. Am J Med Sci. 2009;337(4):256–258....

2. Diet and Health: Implications for Reducing Chronic Disease Risk. National Academy Press, Washington, DC;1989.

3. Tan JC, Burns DL, Jones HR. Severe ataxia, myelopathy, and peripheral neuropathy due to acquired copper deficiency in a patient with history of gastrectomy. JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr. 2006;30(5):446–450.

4. Kumar N, Gross JB Jr, Ahlskog JE. Copper deficiency myelopathy produces a clinical picture like subacute combined degeneration. Neurology. 2004;63(1):33–39.

5. Camblor M, De la Cuerda C, Bretón I, Pérez-Rus G, Alvarez S, García P. Copper deficiency with pancytopenia due to enteral nutrition through jejunostomy. Clin Nutr. 1997;16(3):129–131.

6. Prodan CI, Holland NR, Wisdom PJ, Burstein SA, Bottomley SS. CNS demyelination associated with copper deficiency and hyperzincemia. Neurology. 2002;59(9):1453–1456.

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This series is coordinated by Kenny Lin, MD, MPH, Associate Deputy Editor for AFP Online.



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