Wilson disease is a rare genetic condition that affects about one in 30,000 people. Wilson disease causes a person’s body to store too much of the mineral copper. Many foods contain copper, and it is important for people to have a small amount of copper in the body. However, high levels of copper can damage organs in the body.

In Wilson disease, copper builds up in the liver, brain, eyes and other organs. Over time, the extra copper can lead to organ damage that may cause death.

Other names for Wilson disease include copper storage disease, hepatolenticular degeneration syndrome, WD and Wilson’s disease.

What are the symptoms of Wilson disease?

Wilson disease may affect several of the body’s systems.

Either the liver or the brain can be harmed first, with signs as early as 4 years, or as late as 70 years of age. Symptoms of liver disease include:

  • Jaundice, which is when the skin or the white part of the eye turns yellow
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Swelling in the abdomen
  • Easy bruising

Nervous system or mental health problems can develop in children or young adults who have Wilson disease. These problems include:

  • Clumsiness
  • Trembling
  • Difficulty walking
  • Problems with speech
  • Problems with school work
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings

Eye changes and vision problems may also occur. These include:

  • Kayser-Fleischer rings, which are green-to-brownish rings around the iris of the eye
  • Difficulties with eye movement, particularly in looking upwards

In addition, people who have Wilson disease may experience:

  • A low level of red blood cells, which is called anemia
  • Low levels of white blood cells
  • Low levels of clotting factors called platelets
  • Slow clotting of blood
  • High levels of protein, amino acids and uric acid in the urine
  • Early onset of arthritis and bone loss
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