As the results of treatment in Wilson's disease are so dependent on the stage at which penicillamine therapy is started, the antecedent history in 34 patients with Wilson's disease was analysed with particular respect to the earliest manifestations of the disease. Lethargy and anorexia (70%) jaundice (56%) and abdominal pain (48%) were the commonest symptoms and less common were intellectual deterioration (22%) and recurrent epistaxes (22%). The duration of symptoms before diagnosis ranged from five days to three years (mean 10.5 months) and in only five of the patients was the diagnosis established before referral. Analysis of the physical signs at presentation showed hepatomegaly (81%) and splenomegaly (70%) to be common and the only signs which were significantly more common in the 13 fatal cases were jaundice and ascites. In three of these and in one other patient who survived the clinical course was exceptionally severe and was indistinguishable from fulminant hepatic failure. Based on the severity of abnormality of serum aspartate aminotransferase, bilirubin, and prothrombin time on admission a prognostic index was derived which enabled complete separation of fatal and nonfatal cases and when subsequently used in a further nine index cases correctly predicted the outcome. Two further cases found to have indices in the fatal category did well after liver transplantation, which needs to be considered as soon as the diagnosis is established in cases with such severe liver damage.
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