American Hospital Blog

Wilson's Disease

Wilson's Disease

Wilson's disease is a unique condition that causes copper to accumulate in the liver, brain and other vital organs can affect people at any age, most often seen in ages 5 to 35.

Copper has a crucial role in developing healthy nerves, bones, collagen and skin pigment melanin. It is absorbed from the food, and excess is excreted by a substance created in the liver (bile).

Wilson's disease does not let copper be excreted, and it stores, perhaps, to a life-threatening level. Early detection can help treat the condition wherein many can live everyday life with the disorder.

Understand the symptoms

Wilson's disease is present at birth, but its signs may not be visible until copper builds up in the brain, liver or other organs. The symptoms differ based on the parts of the body the ailment has affected.

The common signs include fatigue, lack of appetite or abdominal pain, building up of fluid in the legs or abdomen, yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eye (jaundice), golden-brown eye discoloration (Kayser-Fleischer rings), problems with speech, swallowing or physical coordination, and uncontrolled movements or muscle stiffness.

Consult the doctor

Talk to your doctor when you have signs concerning you, especially when your family member has Wilson's disease.

Know the causes

Wilson's disease is an inherited ailment as an autosomal recessive trait that affects when the person has inherited one copy of the defective gene from each parent. If only one abnormal gene is obtained, the ailment will not affect you, but you will be a carrier to pass the gene to your children.

Recognize the risks

The risk of Wilson's disease is more when the parents or siblings have the condition. Talk to your doctor to ask if there is a need to undergo genetic testing to diagnose the condition as early detection raise the possibility of successful treatment.

Associated complexities

Serious complications can occur if Wilson's disease is untreated, such as:

• Scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) happens when the liver cells repair the damage done by excess copper, causing it more difficult for the liver to function.
• Liver failure may occur suddenly as acute liver failure or developing slowly over the years, which may require a liver transplant as its treatment option.
• Persistent neurological problems like tremors, involuntary muscle movements, clumsy gait and speech difficulties can happen in some cases, as a treatment for Wilson's disease improves these signs in others.
• Kidney problems may damage the kidneys, leading to kidney stones and causing an abnormal number of amino acids excreted in the urine.
• Psychological issues like personality changes, depression, irritability, bipolar disorder or psychosis can happen.
• Blood problems like the destruction of red blood cells (hemolysis) causing anemia and jaundice.

Measures for prevention

Limit the consumption amount of copper in your diet, avoiding foods that have high amounts of copper, including liver, shellfish, mushrooms, nuts, chocolate.
You can also get your tap water's copper levels tested when there are copper pipes in your home.

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