Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

What Is Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome?

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is directly caused by a thiamin deficiency and is linked to long-term (chronic) alcohol consumption - however, some patients who do not abuse alcohol may also develop this syndrome. Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is also known as wet brain, Korsakoff's psychosis, alcoholic encephalopathy, Wernicke's disease, and encephalopathy - alcoholic. Another name for thiamin is vitamin B1.

Thiamin deficiency is a common consequence of alcoholism. Individuals whose bodies to not absorb food ingredients properly may also suffer, especially those who have undergone surgery for obesity.

Most commonly, Wenicke-Korsakoff syndrome is seen in alcoholics because heavy drinkers typically are poor eaters. Alcohol also interferes with the proper absorption of nutrients from the digestive system.

Thiamin is essential for energy production for proper neuron function. If thiamin levels are very low, the neurons may either become damaged or die.

What are the signs and symptoms of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome?

Wernickes encephalopathy - this is a type of brain damage in which the initial symptoms appear. The individual has abnormal gait and eye movements.

Korsakoff syndrome - if Wernickes encephalopathy is left untreated the patient will start developing this psychiatric disorder, which includes dementia and psychosis.

Individuals with Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome are often thought of as drunk when they are not. This is due to the symptoms of confusion, as well as wobbliness, unsteadiness, and incoordination (ataxia)..

The patient may also have hallucinations and vision problems.

The individual may seem malnourished.

As there is some memory loss, they may confabulate - replace the gaps with imaginary remembered experiences consistently believed to be true. These expressed imaginary experiences are not attempts at deceiving.

There may be sweating and tremors if the cause is alcohol misuse; these symptoms are linked to alcohol withdrawal.

What are the treatment options for Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome?

As soon as the patient is diagnosed, they will need to be hospitalized so that the symptoms can be controlled. Thiamin replacement may help resolve some symptoms, such as vision problems, eye movements, coordination problems, and confusion. Unfortunately, it will not do much to help with memory loss and cognition. Complete recovery from amnesia and psychosis is very unlikely if they have already occurred - however, prompt thiamin treatment may prevent them from ever developing.

The patient will usually be given an intravenous or intramuscular dose of thiamin to start with, followed by oral doses. Some believe the thiamine must be administered before glucose, which could worsen encephalopathy symptoms.

For treatment preventing the progression of the syndrome the patient will have to completely abstain from alcohol and eat a healthy diet.

Recent studies indicate that drugs used for Alzheimer's disease treatment, such as donepezil and rivastigmine, may improve memory in individuals with Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Improvements are modest, but may help those who do not respond well to thiamin. Some experts say antidepressants which raise serotonin levels may also be useful.

Patients who are left untreated will eventually die.

Prevention of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome

If you eat a well-balanced, healthy diet and do not abuse alcohol your chances of developing Wenicke-Korsakoff are virtually nonexistent, unless you have a malabsorption problem.

As a considerable number of alcohol-dependent individuals are unable to stop drinking, such as homeless drinkers, some say alcoholic drinks should be supplemented with thiamin.


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