Student With Wilson’s Disease Mistakenly Thought To Be Drunk

Posted on: 29th February 2016

Student, Alicia Goss, who was regularly refused entry to clubs for appearing drunk has discovered that her symptoms were being caused by the life-threatening condition Wilson's Disease, a genetic disorder which causes a toxic overload of copper in the body.

The condition had left her unable to walk straight and struggling to speak properly. She is now on medication to keep her symptoms under control and is responding well to treatment.

Miss Goss was diagnosed with the rare condition in December 2014 after months of struggling through her studies. She said 'I couldn't write properly - my pen would randomly flick out of my hand and my handwriting was atrocious. I also suffered a lot with bad pains in my knees and joints. By October, after starting uni, my hands would shake and my speech started slurring - it was like I was drunk. I'd go to the pub with my friends and bouncers wouldn't let me in, they thought I was drunk or on drugs. People would even shout at me in the street because I couldn't walk in a straight line, and give me strange looks because they thought I was wasted.'

Wilson’s disease is a disorder where sufferers have a higher than normal amount of copper in their body and can cause damage to the liver, brain and other organs. A genetic defect prevents the liver from being able to metabolise and remove unnecessary amounts of copper from the body as it normally does.

The sociology student went to see her GP who initially put the symptoms down to the stress of going to university. But her condition quickly deteriorated to the point she could no longer walk and she was wheelchair bound, forcing her to drop out of her course at University.

Miss Goss has been on medication since January last year and her symptoms are now under control, although she still suffers from fatigue. Tests revealed her parents both carry the faulty gene which is how she ended up with the disease.

Dr Godfrey Gillett, a consultant in clinical chemistry and inherited metabolic disease at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, said Miss Goss showed both liver and neurological signs and symptoms.

British Liver Trust states: 'Wilson’s disease is a disorder where sufferers have a higher than normal amount of copper in their body. An overload of copper is poisonous and can damage the liver, brain and other organs. The overload is caused by a genetic defect that prevents the liver from being able to metabolise and remove unnecessary amounts of copper from the body as it normally does.

If Wilson’s disease is diagnosed early enough it can be effectively treated. When it is not treated, the disease is always fatal. The disease is estimated to affect one person in 30,000 worldwide and occurs with about the same frequency in both men and women.

Copper taken in from eating is absorbed by the small intestine. From there it is bound to a protein that circulates in the blood (albumin) and transported to the liver to be stored. Normally, any copper the body doesn’t use is carried away by bile – a fluid produced by the liver to aid digestion – and excreted from the body. Biliary excretion is the only means of removing copper. When this is not working properly an accumulation (build-up) of copper in the body will follow.This accumulation of copper will lead to serious and possibly irreversible damage to the liver if not treated.'

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Find out more about Wilson's Disease here
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