Werner's Syndrome: Symptoms

Concentrated primarily in the Japanese population for reasons as yet unknown, Werner’s syndrome (WS) is the most common of all recognized progeroid syndromes. It was first described in literature by Dr. Otto Werner in 1904, and approximately 1300 people are known have suffered from the disease since that time. Like other forms of progeria, it is a genetic disorder, and cannot be "caught" from proximity to a WS patient.

Werner is sometimes also called "adult onset progeria," because unlike most progeroid syndromes it manifests only after the onset of puberty. The symptoms of WS closely mimic the natural ageing process, although WS patients also show symptoms not associated with natural ageing.

The earliest sign of WS is the development of the characteristic "bird-like" face (large nose, small, flat mouth, prominant eyes, etc), and the lack of a growth spurt upon hitting puberty. Until that point, growth is typically normal. Throughout the late teens and early twenties, WS patients resemble normal, albeit short, adults, but by age thirty progeroid symptoms have begun to manifest. In the case of Werner’s syndrome, these include but are not limited to hair graying and loss, the appearance of heavy skin wrinkles, muscle atrophy, osteoporosis, cataracts in the eyes, discontinued function of the reproductive organs, arteriosclerosis, and the onset of diabetes mellitus II. The arms and legs of WS patients will often appear thin and fragile compared to their torsos, and skin ulcers around joints of the limbs are common.

As with many progeria, WS sufferers are considerably more cancer prone than the general population. Higher incidents of melanoma and osteosarcoma have been observed, and often these cancers occur in strange places on the body. WS patients often develop melanomas in areas not exposed to the sun, and osteosarcomas on the legs, where most people get them on the torso or arms. Thyroid cancers also occur with considerable frequency as compared to the general population.

Werner's syndrome patients have a lifespan considerably longer than that of most other progeria patients. While other diseases usually result in death before age twenty, WS patients typically live into the mid-forties. Death is typically caused by either malignant tumor(s) or by a complication of arteriosclerosis, most commonly either heart attack or aneurysm. The delayed onset of the disease may contribute to the relative longevity of WS patients.