Aims: To report on the diagnostic features, management, and clinical outcome after different treatments of Wilson's disease patients followed over a mean period of 15 years.
Patients: Thirty-five patients with Wilson's disease referred to the University of Padova's Department of Gastroenterology for diagnosis or treatment were observed for a mean 15 years. The diagnosis was based on clinical symptoms, laboratory tests (ceruloplasmin, urinary, and hepatic copper concentrations), and uptake of the radiostable isotope 65Cu into the plasma protein pool. Hepatic Cu content was measured by regular follow-up biopsies. Neurologic outcome after therapy was assessed using a newly developed scoring system.
Results: Twenty-three (65.7%) patients presented with liver disease; 12 (34.3%) had mixed neurologic and hepatic involvement. All patients had been initially treated with either penicillamine (23) or zinc sulfate (12). The neurologic symptoms became worse or remained stationary in 75% of those treated with penicillamine, whereas zinc treatment improved these symptoms in 90% of treated cases. Both treatments were effective in improving the hepatic symptoms. No differences in hepatic Cu content emerged between follow-up biopsies in either treatment group. Six patients (26%) had to abandon the penicillamine treatment due to side effects. In all, 4 patients underwent liver transplantation, which was successful in 3, with a mean survival after transplantation of 4.6 years; the fourth, who had a severe neurologic impairment, died of central pontine myelinolysis.
Conclusions: Penicillamine and zinc can effectively treat Wilson's disease, though the side effects of penicillamine may be severe enough to prompt its suspension. Liver transplantation remains the treatment of choice for end-stage liver disease.