What Is Werner Syndrome?

Discover the Most Common Premature Aging Disorder

Elderly woman hugging younger woman
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Werner syndrome, also known as progeria of adulthood, is the most common premature aging disorder. Rapid aging, the defining feature of Werner syndrome, typically starts in your mid-30s. 

Werner syndrome is caused by mutations in the WRN gene on chromosome 8. It is an autosomal recessive disorder, meaning both parents have to have a copy of the gene for their child to be affected. The syndrome is estimated to occur in 1 in 20 million individuals in the United States, affecting both males and females equally.

Higher incidences of Werner syndrome have been reported in Japan and Sardinia.

Symptoms of Wener Syndrome

Despite rapid aging beginning later in life, signs of Werner syndrome can be seen during childhood and adolescence. Children with Werner syndrome tend to be unusually thin and grow slowly. By the age of 25, they may have gray hair, sparse head and body hair, and underdeveloped sexual characteristics which can cause infertility. Once the disease process accelerates in the mid-30s, their body begins to age faster than normal. This accelerated aging may cause:

  • Wrinkling and sagging of the face
  • Decreased muscle mass
  • Thin skin and loss of fat under the skin
  • Graying hair and hair loss
  • A high-pitched voice
  • Dental abnormalities 
  • Slowed reflexes

Along with the physical appearance of aging, body organs and systems also begin to age. This can cause:

  • Cataracts (cloudy spots on the lens of the eye)
  • Osteoporosis (weakened bones)

Getting a Diagnosis 

Werner's syndrome is typically diagnosed in the mid-30s when rapid aging symptoms appear. The syndrome is usually diagnosed based on physical examination.

Imaging and laboratory tests can also aid in making a diagnosis. This may include screening for cataracts, checking bone density, and looking for cardiovascular issues or any tumors associated with the condition. Special laboratory testing may be used to examine skin cells or molecular testing of the WRN gene. 

Treatment for Werner Syndrome

There is no cure for Werner syndrome, nor is there a syndrome-specific treatment. Treatments are available, however, to help minimize symptoms. Since diabetes is common among people with Werner syndrome, blood sugar levels should be routinely checked. Cholesterol levels should be monitored as well, and treated if necessary. If you have the condition, your should also follow-up with an ophthalmologist and have your eyes checked for cataracts. 

Future Research on the Disease

Scientists have developed a strain of mice which have all the symptoms of Werner syndrome. They plan to use the mice in research to look at the relationship between aging and cancer, as well as gaining insight into the mechanisms at work in Werner syndrome.


The University of Washington is investigating Werner syndrome as well, offering clinical testing to those who may be affected.They also manage an international registry, which houses clinical information and biological samples for research-related testing. 

Wozniacka, A. (2002). Progeria (Werner syndrome). eMedicine

Press release, University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, August 20, 2004.

National Organization for Rare Diseases (NORD). (2015) Werner Syndrome. NORD.​

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