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Lahey Health is now part of Beth Israel Lahey Health

by EBSCO Medical Review Board
(Hypocupremia; Cu Deficiency)

Definition

Copper deficiency is a low level of copper in the body. Copper is a mineral our bodies get from food. We need it in small amounts to make energy, connective tissue, and blood vessels. It also plays a role in brain development and helps the nervous and immune systems work as they should.

Causes

This problem may be caused by:

  • Not absorbing enough copper from the digestive tract
  • Not getting enough copper in the diet due to malnutrition
  • Problems with the kidneys, such as nephrotic syndrome and glomerulonephritis

Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of this problem are:

  • Prior gastric surgery
  • Health problems that make it hard for the body to absorb copper, such as Celiac disease, Crohn disease, and cystic fibrosis
  • Poor nutrition
  • Changes in genes that transport copper (Menkes disease)

Symptoms

Problems may be:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Feeling tired and weak
  • Lightheadedness
  • Lightened patches of skin
  • Hair that is sparse, gray, or kinky
  • Problems breathing during activity
  • Problems with balance and coordination
  • Rapid heartbeat

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. This may be enough to suspect copper deficiency.

The diagnosis can be confirmed with a blood test to check copper levels.

Treatment

Any underlying health problems will need to be treated.

The goal of treatment is to increase copper levels. This can be done with a copper supplement.

Prevention

Copper deficiency cannot always be prevented. The risk may be lowered for some with a change in diet. Copper is found in foods like shellfish, nuts, and cereals.

RESOURCES

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians  https://www.familydoctor.org 

Office of Dietary Supplements—National Institutes of Health  https://www.ods.od.nih.gov 

CANADIAN RESOURCES

The College of Family Physicians of Canada  https://www.cfp.ca 

Health Canada  https://www.canada.ca 

References

Copper. Office of Dietary Supplements—National Institutes of Health website. Available at:  https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Copper-HealthProfessional  . Accessed August 2, 2021.

Copper deficiency. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/copper-deficiency-23. Accessed August 2, 2021.

Copper deficiency. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/nutritional-disorders/mineral-deficiency-and-toxicity/copper-deficiency. Accessed August 2, 2021.

Revision Information