DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My friend has suffered from Wilson’s disease for many years. We would appreciate hearing if there has been any advancement in the treatment of this rarely-heard-of disease. – P.D.

ANSWER: Wilson’s disease is an uncommon inherited illness. In a population of 40,000 people, only about one case will be found. But in the combined populations of Canada and the United States, the number of Wilson’s patients is in the thousands. A child must have two genes to come down with it – one from the father and one from the mother. Neither the mother nor the father has any signs of the illness. They are carriers.

With Wilson’s disease, too much copper gets into the body. The excess copper is deposited in the brain and the liver, and it disturbs their function. The signs of Wilson’s, therefore, are the signs of liver and brain malfunction.

Around the mid- to late teens, many Wilson’s patients can develop hepatitis. Wilson’s should be thought of when a teenager, without any reasons for contracting hepatitis, comes down with it. When the diagnosis is made promptly and treatment is begun, the liver can be saved. If the diagnosis is missed and time passes, the liver becomes scarred and cirrhotic.

Brain deposits of copper produce a number of neurological symptoms. They appear a little later in life, in the 20s to 40s. Affected people often slur their words, and their movements become clumsy and uncoordinated. Muscles can cramp.

Tremors often arise. Psychiatric disturbances, ranging from temper tantrums to severe depression, can beset these patients.

Treatment for Wilson’s is often very successful in stopping progression of the illness and reversing its symptoms. Trientine draws copper from the body. Zinc blocks its absorption. There are other medicines patients can take.

The Wilson’s Disease Association fields people’s questions and provide information on this illness. The toll-free number is 1-800-399-0266.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: We have twin daughters, age 10. We are planning to visit my parents, who live quite far from us. My father called to say he has shingles. We wonder if we should delay our trip. Could the girls catch shingles from him? – N.W.

ANSWER: Shingles is the chickenpox virus that has lived in nerve cells since the original chickenpox infection occurred, most often in childhood. The virus of shingles is the same as the virus of chickenpox. If a person who has never had chickenpox comes in contact with a shingles patient, that person can come down with chickenpox, not shingles.

Such transmission happens only when shingles is in the blister stage. The virus is in the fluid of the blister.

If your daughters have had chickenpox, they won’t come down with chickenpox even if your father is still in the possible transmission stage. More likely than not, your children have had the chickenpox vaccine. If that is the case, they won’t catch chickenpox from their grandfather.

On the remote chance that your children have never had chickenpox and never had the chickenpox vaccine, they won’t be at risk for catching the chickenpox virus if your dad’s rash has dried up.

If you’re taking a car and the trip is long, you can start now and pretty much be assured that his rash will be dried by the time you arrive.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: What is the normal amount of sleep time for an adult? I have to get nine hours or I feel dragged-out the next day. My wife says that is too much sleep, and it can harm my health. Is that true? – L.P.

ANSWER: Most adults average seven to eight hours of sleep a night. However, the amount of sleep particular individuals need is the amount that makes them feel fresh the next day. Nine hours is not too much sleep for anyone.

What does your wife say is going to happen to you if you continue to get nine hours of sleep? I can’t imagine what it might be.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have been involved in serious weight training for three months. I have been doing it partly to get stronger and get in better shape and partly to lose weight. I am stronger, and I am in better shape, but I haven’t lost any weight. I have gained about four pounds. Could this be added muscle? – B.C.

ANSWER: It most likely is added muscle. Two months of an intensive weightlifting program have been shown to bring about a 5-pound increase in muscle weight. At the same time, such a program leads to at least a 1-pound loss of body fat.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from

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