Loading icon
Press enter or spacebar to select a desired language.
Health Information Center

Wilson Disease

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:


Wilson Disease


Wilson disease is a rare buildup of copper in the body. Copper is a mineral we get from food. Our bodies need it in small amounts. People with Wilson disease cannot pass excess copper out of the body. Copper can build up in the liver, brain, and other vital organs.

Early treatment can help prevent serious illness and death.

Blood Supply and Liver.

Blood Supply Liverhttp://services.epnet.com/getimage.aspx?imageiid=75907590si55551171.jpgsi55551171.jpgNULLjpgsi55551171.jpgNULL\\hgfiler01a\intellect\images\si55551171.jpgNULL78NULL2008-12-10290400Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


Wilson disease is caused by a faulty gene. Both parents must have the faulty gene for the child to get the disease.

Risk Factors

A family history of the disease raises a person's risk of getting it. It is more common in people in parts of Europe, Japan, and Costa Rica.


It may take some time for copper to build up. At first, the liver will hold the excess copper. Then it will leave the liver and move to other organs like the brain or eyes.

  • Problems from excess copper in the liver are:
    • Yellowing of the skin and eyes
    • Swollen belly
    • Belly pain
    • Nausea
    • Vomiting blood
    • Fluid buildup in the legs
    • Tiredness
  • Problems from excess copper in the brain are:
    • Depression
    • Anxiety
    • Mood swings
    • Behavior changes
    • Problems speaking and swallowing
    • Shaking
    • Stiff muscles
    • Problems with balance and walking
  • Problems from excess copper in the eyes are red/brown rings around the colored part of the eye


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. A test will be done to look for key signs in the eyes. This can confirm the diagnosis.

Blood tests may also be done to look for signs of the disease. This can also confirm the diagnosis.


There is no cure. It needs to be treated throughout a person's life. The goals are to:

  • Remove the extra copper
  • Prevent copper from building up again
  • Ease symptoms

Treatment may include:

  • Diet changes to lower copper levels, such as
    • Avoiding foods that are high in copper, such as liver, shellfish, nuts, chocolate, and mushrooms
    • Checking drinking water for copper levels
    • Avoiding multivitamins that include copper
  • Medicines may be given by mouth or injection to:
    • Bind to the copper—to release it from the body
    • Block the digestive tract from absorbing copper
    • Treat brain and nerve problems, if they develop

Other therapies to help brain and nerve problems may include:

  • Physical and speech therapy
  • A temporary feeding tube—for severe swallowing problems

People with severe liver damage may need a transplant. It may also be needed in those who are not helped by other methods.


There are no current guidelines to prevent Wilson disease.





  • About Wilson disease. Wilson Disease Association website. Available at: http://www.wilsonsdisease.org/about-wilson-disease.
  • Capone K, Azzam RK. Wilson's disease: a review for the general pediatrician. Pediatr Ann. 2018;47(11):e440-e444.
  • Wilson disease. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/wilson-disease.
  • Wilson disease. National Digestive Disease Information Clearinghouse website. Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/liver-disease/wilson-disease.


  • Daniel A. Ostrovsky, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.