Twenty of 320 patients with Wilson's disease initially presented with chemical and laboratory features of chronic active hepatitis, confirmed histologically in 17. When first seen, cirrhosis was present in all 20 and was complicated by ascites and/orjaundice in 11. Within 1 week to 8 years of the onset of overt liver disease the diagnosis of Wilson's disease was established, and treatment with D-penicillamine was promptly initiated in 19 patients. One man refused treatment and died 4 months later. Treated patients received D-penicillamine or trientine for a total of 264 patient-years (median, 14 patient-years). Abnormal water retention, for which salt restriction and diuretics were added to penicillamine or trientine, disappeared in all but 1 of the patients so affected. Symptomatic improvement and virtually normal levels of serum albumin, bilirubin, aspartate aminotransferase, and alanine aminotransferase followed within 1 year in the majority of subjects. One woman died after 9 months of treatment. Two patients, who became noncompliant with the therapeutic regimen after 9 and 17 years of successful pharmacological treatment, required liver transplants. These results indicate that the prognosis of specifically treated Wilsonian chronic active hepatitis is very good in spite of the presence of cirrhosis.
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