Free Copper in the Blood
The human body needs approximately 50 to 80 milligrams of copper to function properly. Copper is taken from ingested food and absorbed into the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, copper attaches to a protein called ceruloplasmin, which transports the copper all over the body. Copper in the blood that does not attach to ceruloplasmin is called free copper. Having too much free copper in the blood can be very dangerous. The free copper will start in move out of the bloodstream and into the tissue of the brain, eyes, and kidneys. As the copper starts to build up, it destroys the cells around it, which decreases the functioning of these organs.
Wilson’s disease is hereditary and, as of yet, there is no cure. Fortunately, however, the symptoms can be managed. If symptoms are left untreated, the disease can be fatal.
A copper plasma test, also known as a copper serum test, is most often used to test for or rule out the presence of Wilson’s disease. The condition disrupts the body’s process for eliminating copper from the body; and so as copper continues to be consumed, copper levels in the blood continue to rise. Much of the body’s copper is found in the liver, which is supposed to filter excess copper into waste so that it can pass out of the body. Wilson’s disease stops copper filtering through the liver appropriately, and one is left with free copper blood levels as much as six times greater than an individual without the disorder. The copper plasma test assesses how much free copper is in an individual’s blood.
How the Blood Test Works
Blood serum is the portion of an individual’s blood that is not a red or white blood cell and not a blood clotting agent. Therefore, blood serum contains all of the minerals, proteins, electrolytes, and hormones that are found in blood. One of the minerals found in blood serum is copper, and the copper blood serum test is used to assess how much copper is in the serum. If free copper levels are too high, doctors may suspect Wilson’s disease or overuse of dietary supplements containing copper – the latter being the most common cause of abnormally high copper blood levels. If free copper serum test levels are too low (relatively uncommon), one may be suffering from malnourishment or may have Menkes syndrome, a hereditary condition that normally develops in infancy and is very often fatal.
Signs and Symptoms
A blood test is the best and easiest way for an individual to know whether or his or her blood has appropriate levels of copper. Symptoms of copper toxicity include jaundice, vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure, blood in urine, and a metallic taste in the mouth. One can sometimes see a copper-colored ring around the irises of individuals with extreme cases of Wilson’s disease. Symptoms of a copper deficiency include extreme fatigue, a magnesium deficiency, an excess of zinc, and hair loss. Premature babies are at an increased risk for copper deficiencies and often need to take a copper supplement. Another population at increased risk are those with eating disorders that restrict food intake and absorption.