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Pediatrics. 2012 Sep;130(3):e695-8. doi: 10.1542/peds.2011-1295. Epub 2012 Aug 6.

Copper deficiency presenting as metabolic bone disease in extremely low birth weight, short-gut infants.

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Department of Pediatrics-Graduate Medical Education, Seattle Children’s Hospital, The University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, Washington, USA.


Copper deficiency can cause bone lesions in infants, which might be confused with child abuse. Two extremely low birth weight preterm infants had complicated medical courses requiring prolonged parenteral nutrition for short-gut syndrome, which led to the development of cholestasis. Both had spent their entire lives in the hospital. They had been on prolonged ventilator support for chronic lung disease. They developed signs of copper deficiency between 5 and 6 months of age, initially raising child abuse concerns. Musculoskeletal discomfort led to the recognition of radiographic findings of metabolic bone disease. Included were osteoporosis, metaphyseal changes, and physeal disruptions. Copper levels were low; both low copper parenteral nutrition and gut losses from refeeding diarrhea likely contributed to their deficiency. Therapeutic supplementation with copper corrected their deficits and clinical and radiologic findings. The information from these cases, in particular, their radiologic findings, indicate the need to monitor copper status in at-risk premature infants. These findings may aid prevention and earlier recognition of copper deficiency. Their specific radiologic and clinical findings should aid differentiation of such children from abused infants.

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