Wernicke encephalopathy is a brain disorder. It can lead to 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 alcoholism. 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 alcoholism 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 diagnosis will be made if you have the typical findings.
Your blood will be tested for a thiamine level.
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Options include:
If Wernicke encephalopathy is associated with alcoholism 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
Alzheimer Society Canada
Public Health Agency of Canada
Kaineg B, Hudgins M, et al. Wernicke’s encephalopathy. N Engl J Med. 2005;352:e18. Available at: http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMicm040862. Accessed December 18, 2013.
Wernicke encephalopathy. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated October 14, 2013. Accessed December 18, 2013.
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 December 18, 2013.
Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Patient UK website. Available at: http://www.patient.co.uk/doctor/Wernicke-Korsakoff-Syndrome.htm. Updated April 20, 2011. Accessed December 18, 2013.
Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Radiopaedia website. Available at: http://radiopaedia.org/articles/wernicke-korsakoff-syndrome. Accessed December 18, 2013.
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 December 18, 2013.
What is Korsakoff’s syndrome. Alzheimer’s Society website. Available at: http://www.alzheimers.org.uk/site/scripts/documents_info.php?documentID=98. Updated May 2012. Accessed December 18, 2013.
Last reviewed December 2013 by Michael Woods, 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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