A recent clinical problem-solving case report highlights the fact that seeing the right specialist helps a great deal with pattern recognition (NEJM 2013; 368: 1345-51). In this report, intriguingly titled “The Essential Element” the authors describe a 21-year-old who presented with refractory hemolytic anemia along with low albumin, low alkaline phosphatase, and elevated total & direct bilirubins. Her course was somewhat protracted due to treatment of hemolytic anemia and lack of recognition of underlying hepatocellular disease. After readmission three months later the diagnosis of Wilson’s disease was made and quickly she underwent orthotopic liver transplantation.
A couple of pointers from this article for me included the following:
- Parenchymal injury from the oxidative effect of copper leads to the hepatocellular injury. Release of copper also causes oxidative damage of erythroctye membranes.
- The low alkaline phosphatase which is characteristic of Wilson’s is potentially due to the oxidative damage from free radicals or by competition at the active site of the alkaline phosphatase enzyme.
- The combination of hemolysis with liver dysfunction should prompt consideration of Wilson’s.
Most hepatologists would quickly recognize the pattern presented in this case report. Getting the patient to the right physician is the key.
Comprehensive review on Wilson’s:
Diagnosis and treatment of Wilson disease: An update – American … AASLD Guidelines for Wilson disease. This is an excellent resource for diagnosis and management.
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