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Wilson Disease

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Rare Liver Disease Summit Seeks to Improve Patient Health Outcomes

Rare Liver Disease Summit Seeks to Improve Patient Health Outcomes
American Liver Foundation brings together experts, patients and families in a virtual two-day event The American Liver Foundation (ALF) will bring together leading rare liver ...

Wilson Disease is an inherited condition that causes the body to retain excess copper. The liver of a person who has Wilson Disease does not release copper into bile as it should. As the copper builds up in the liver, it begins to damage the organ.

After enough damage, the liver releases the copper directly into the bloodstream, which carries the copper throughout the body. The copper buildup leads to damage in the kidneys, brain, and eyes. If not treated, Wilson Disease can cause severe brain damage, liver failure, and death.

  1. Wilson Disease is a genetic disease that prevents the body from removing extra copper.
  2. About one in 30,000 people have Wilson Disease.Some people with Wilson Disease may not develop signs or symptoms of liver disease until they develop acute liver failure.
  3. Some people with Wilson Disease may not develop signs or symptoms of liver disease until they develop acute liver failure.

What are the symptoms of Wilson Disease?

Wilson Disease is present at birth, but the symptoms usually appear between the ages of 6 and 20 years and can begin as late as age 40. The most characteristic sign is a rusty brown ring around the cornea of the eye called the Kayser-Fleischer ring. This can be seen only through an eye exam.

Other signs can be detected only by a health care professional, such as swelling of the liver and spleen; fluid buildup in the lining of the abdomen; anemia; low platelet and white blood cell count in the blood; high levels of amino acids, protein, uric acid, and carbohydrates in urine; and softening of the bones. Some symptoms are more obvious, like jaundice, which appears as yellowing of the eyes and skin; vomiting blood; speech and language problems; tremors in the arms and hands; and rigid muscles.

What causes Wilson Disease?

Wilson Disease is a rare inherited disorder that affects about one in 30,000 individuals of any race or ethnicity. Wilson Disease is an autosomal recessive trait, which means that the affected individual must receive two copies of an abnormal gene for Wilson Disease, one from each parent.

How is Wilson Disease diagnosed?

The diagnosis of Wilson Disease can usually be made by tests of the blood, urine and eyes, or by liver biopsy. Almost all patients with Wilson Disease also have a decreased level of serum ceruloplasmin, a copper binding protein, in their blood.

An increase of copper in the urine is present in most but not all patients, and corneal Kayser-Fleischer rings are present in 50% of people with the disease. A liver biopsy may be performed to measure the amount of copper in the liver, which is elevated uniformly in all patients with Wilson Disease. Genetic testing of DNA samples can be used to screen a confirmed patient’s siblings and other family members.

How is Wilson Disease treated?

Wilson Disease is treated with lifelong use of D-penicillamine or trientine hydrochloride, drugs that help remove copper from tissue, or zinc acetate, which stops the intestines from absorbing copper and promotes copper excretion. Patients will also need to take vitamin B6 and follow a low-copper diet, which means avoiding mushrooms, nuts, chocolate, dried fruit, liver, and shellfish. If detected early and treated properly, a person with Wilson disease can enjoy completely normal health.

If left untreated, Wilson Disease results in increasing damage to the liver and brain, and will be deadly.

Patients with acute liver failure due to Wilson Disease should be considered for liver transplantation. Liver transplantation effectively cures this disease, with a long-term survival rate of about 80%.

Who is at risk for Wilson Disease?

Wilson Disease occurs with equal frequency in men and women. For a child to inherit it, both parents must carry and pass on a specific gene. Two abnormal genes are required for the child to have the disease. All siblings and children of Wilson Disease patients should be tested for the condition. Other relatives who have had symptoms or laboratory tests that indicate liver or neurological disease should also be tested.

  • Should others in my family be tested as well?
  • What diet restrictions should I follow?
  • Can Wilson’s Disease affect other parts/organs of the body?
  • Will I have routine labs and/or imaging studies?
  • Are there other lifestyle changes I should make to slow the progression of the liver disease?
  • Will I need a liver transplant?
  • Ask about protecting your liver from additional injury by receiving the hepatitis A and B vaccines.
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Wilson Disease – Genetic Testing and Emerging Treatments

Date Posted April 28, 2021 Audience Primary – Patients and caregivers Secondary – Clinicians [Wilson Disease, Rare Liver Diseases] Program This webinar provides guidance and education on the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of Wilson Disease. It also touches on the initial signs of Wilson Disease, daily challenges, dietary issues, ...

The Wilson Disease Discussion

Date Recorded December 5th, 2019 at 1pm EST Audience Primary – Patients and caregivers Secondary – Clinicians [Wilson Disease, Rare Liver Diseases] Program This webinar provides guidance and education on the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment options for Wilson Disease. A patient speaker was also featured, to provide their story ...

Erin’s Story

Wilson Disease ...

The following organization is a good additional resource about Wilson Disease.

Healthy and Sick Livers

The Healthy Liver

A healthy liver has the amazing ability to grow back, or regenerate when damaged.


When treated successfully at this stage, there’s a chance your liver can heal itself.

Liver Cancer

Cirrhosis and hepatitis B are leading risk factors for primary liver cancer.

Liver Transplant

Removal of unhealthy liver and replace with a whole or portion of a healthy liver.

There are many different types of liver disease. But no matter what type you have, the damage to your liver is likely to progress in a similar way.

Whether your liver is infected with a virus, injured by chemicals, or under attack from your own immune system, the basic danger is the same – that your liver will become so damaged that it can no longer work to keep you alive.

Cirrhosis, liver cancer, and liver failure are serious conditions that can threaten your life. Once you have reached these stages of liver disease, your treatment options may be very limited.

That’s why it’s important to catch liver disease early, in the inflammation and fibrosis stages. If you are treated successfully at these stages, your liver may have a chance to heal itself and recover.

Talk to your doctor about liver disease. Find out if you are at risk or if you should undergo any tests or vaccinations.

Clinical trials are research studies that test how well new medical approaches work in people. Before an experimental treatment can be tested on human subjects in a clinical trial, it must have shown benefit in laboratory testing or animal research studies. The most promising treatments are then moved into clinical trials, with the goal of identifying new ways to safely and effectively prevent, screen for, diagnose, or treat a disease.

Speak with your doctor about the ongoing progress and results of these trials to get the most up-to-date information on new treatments. Participating in a clinical trial is a great way to contribute to curing, preventing and treating liver disease and its complications.

Start your search here to find clinical trials that need people like you.

Last Updated on May 13, 2021


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