Wernicke encephalopathy is a brain disorder. It can be associated with a variety of symptoms such as confusion, lack of muscle coordination, and eye movement difficulties.
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Wernicke encephalopathy is caused by thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency. The deficiency may be caused by poor nutrition, problems absorbing vitamins, or both.
Vitamin B deficiency is common in those with alcohol use disorder (AUD). Excessive intake of alcohol is associated with poor diets and damage to the intestines that make it difficult to absorb vitamins. However, not everyone with AUD develops Wernicke encephalopathy. A combination of genes and diet may play a role.
Factors that may increase your risk of Wernicke encephalopathy include:
Symptoms may include:
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
The level of thiamine in your blood will be measured. This can be done with a blood test.
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Options include:
If Wernicke encephalopathy is associated with AUD or an eating disorder, you may be referred to a rehabilitation facility.
To help reduce your chance of getting Wernicke encephalopathy, take these steps:
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
National Institute on Aging
Alzheimer Society Canada
Public Health Agency of Canada
Kaineg B, Hudgins M. Wernicke’s encephalopathy. N Engl J Med. 2005;352(19):e18.
Lukas RV, Piantino J, Ksiazek S, et al. MRI changes in a head and neck cancer patient with Wernicke’s Encephalopathy and visual loss. Neuro-Ophthalmology. 2011;35(5-6):272-275.
Wernicke encephalopathy. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115007/Wernicke-encephalopathy. Updated December 19, 2014. Accessed November 16, 2015.
Wernicke’s encephalopathy. University of Virginia School of Medicine website. Available at: http://www.medicine.virginia.edu/clinical/departments/medicine/divisions/digestive-health/nutrition-support-team/nutrition-articles/ThomsonArticle.pdf. Accessed November 16, 2015.
Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Patient UK website. Available at: http://patient.info/doctor/wernicke-korsakoff-syndrome. Updated September 19, 2014. Accessed November 16, 2015.
Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Radiopaedia website. Available at: http://radiopaedia.org/articles/wernicke-korsakoff-syndrome. Accessed November 16, 2015
Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/wernicke_korsakoff/wernicke-korsakoff.htm. Updated February 14, 2007. Accessed November 16, 2015.
What is Korsakoff’s syndrome. Alzheimer’s Society website. Available at: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/site/scripts/documents_info.php?documentID=98. Updated May 2012. Accessed November 16, 2015.
Last reviewed November 2015 by Rimas Lukas, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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