Is Wilson's syndrome a legitimate ailment?

Answers from Todd B. Nippoldt, M.D.

No, Wilson's syndrome, also referred to as Wilson's temperature syndrome, isn't an accepted diagnosis. Rather, Wilson's syndrome is a label applied to a collection of nonspecific symptoms in people whose thyroid hormone levels are normal.

Proponents of Wilson's syndrome believe it to be a mild form of thyroid hormone deficiency (hypothyroidism) that responds to treatment with a preparation of a thyroid hormone called triiodothyronine (T3). However, the American Thyroid Association has found no scientific evidence supporting the existence of Wilson's syndrome.

In a public health statement, the American Thyroid Association concluded:

  • The diagnostic criteria for Wilson's syndrome — low body temperature and nonspecific signs and symptoms such as fatigue, irritability, hair loss, insomnia, headaches and weight gain — are imprecise.
  • There's no scientific evidence that T3 performs better than placebo in people with nonspecific symptoms such as those described in Wilson's syndrome.

Hypothyroidism can be diagnosed by blood tests that detect insufficient levels of thyroid hormone. Wilson's syndrome shouldn't be confused with Wilson's disease — a rare, inherited disorder that causes too much copper to accumulate in certain organs.

Although it's frustrating to have persistent symptoms your doctor can't readily explain, it could be worse to accept an unrecognized diagnosis from an unqualified practitioner. Unproven therapies for so-called Wilson's syndrome may leave you feeling sicker, while a treatable condition — such as fibromyalgia or depression — goes undiagnosed.

Nov. 22, 2011 See more Expert Answers