Wilson's Disease: Symptoms, Potential Complications, And Treatment

Lifestyle & Health

Copper is a trace mineral, which means you need a very small amount of it for your body systems to function properly. But too much copper is harmful to vital organs. Your body normally gets rid of extra copper, but there is a disease in which this process doesn’t happen.

Wilson’s disease is a rare genetic disorder in which the body can’t get rid of extra copper and it accumulates in the liver, brain, and other organs, preventing their normal function. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, approximately one in 30,000 people has Wilson’s disease. Symptoms usually manifest between the ages 5 and 35 but can start earlier or later in life. The disease is sometimes difficult to diagnose because its symptoms overlap with those of other conditions that affect the liver, and such diagnosis wouldn’t be the doctor’s first guess because the disease is uncommon.

Without proper diagnosis and treatment, Wilson’s disease can become life-threatening. But with timely diagnosis, the disease is highly treatable.

Symptoms of Wilson’s disease

One of the distinctive and visible symptoms of Wilson’s disease is Kayser-Fleischer rings – golden-brown rings around the edge of the iris.

Other common symptoms of the disease include the following:

  • jaundice;
  • weakness and tiredness;
  • lack of appetite and abdominal pain;
  • swelling of the abdomen and legs due to fluid buildup;
  • uncontrolled movements and muscle cramps;
  • problems with speech and swallowing;
  • memory problems;
  • mood changes.

If you have such symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor.

Complications of Wilson’s disease

If Wilson’s disease isn’t diagnosed correctly and treated, it can lead to serious complications that include the following:

  • scarring of the liver (cirrhosis);
  • liver failure;
  • liver cancer;
  • kidney damage;
  • treatment-resistant neurological symptoms.

Treatment of Wilson’s disease

Treatment of Wilson’s disease may involve drugs to remove extra copper from the body and drugs that prevent copper absorption. If the liver is badly damaged and can’t function properly, a liver transplant is needed.

There are also certain dietary changes you’ll have to make if you have Wilson’s disease. They include limiting foods that are high in copper, such as liver, shellfish, nuts, mushrooms, and chocolate.

Wilson’s disease cannot be prevented. But with proper and timely treatment, you can live a normal life.

Source: NIDDK, Mayo Clinic, HealthLine, Medline Plus

READ ALSO: 11 Warning Symptoms Of Hepatic Failure And How People Might Keep Their Liver Healthy


This article is purely for informational purposes. Do not self-medicate, and in all cases consult a certified healthcare professional before using any information presented in the article. The editorial board does not guarantee any results and does not bear any responsibility for harm that may result from using the information stated in the article.