Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

June 12th, 2012 by admin No comments »

Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome is a thiamine deficiency manifestation or absence of the important vitamin B1. It is a brain disorder, sometimes called Korsakoff’s psychosis and also known as alcoholic encephalopathy, wet brain, encephalopathy-alcoholic or Wernicke’s disease. It can be caused by alcohol abuse and induces ataxia, impaired memory and vision changes.

Causes and symptoms of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome

First, you have to have in mind that Wernicke’s (encephalopathy) and Korsakoff are in fact two different cases of brain damage and both are caused by thiamine, i.e. vitamin B1 deficiency. The deficiency of vitamin B1 is very common in individuals that are alcoholics. It is found as well in individuals that can’t absorb the food well, for example after obesity operation. Korsakoff psychosis, or Korsakoff syndrome, usually appears after Wernicke’s symptoms are gone. Wernicke’s encephalopathy may cause brain damage in the hypothalamus and thalamus. Korsakoff psychosis damages the part responsible for memory. The symptoms of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome can be divided into symptoms of Wernicke’s encephalopathy and symptoms of Korsakoff syndrome. The symptoms of Wernicke’s encephalopathy include vision changes, such as double vision, eyelid drooping and unusual eye movements, loss of coordination in the muscles, such as leg tremor, and confusion. The symptoms of Korsakoff syndrome include memory loss, creating false memories, hallucinations, hearing or seeing things that don’t exist and the lack of ability to form new memories.

Diagnosis of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome

Certain tests and physical examination should be made in order to diagnose this condition. A person with Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome will have really fast pulse, lower blood pressure, lower body temperature, weakness in the muscles and atrophy, problem with coordination and walking, decreased reflexes and abnormal eye movement. Tests for the levels of vitamin B1 should be made, as well as general transketolase activity tests for red blood cells. The individual may seem poorly nourished. An MRI of the brain will show the changes in the brain tissue. If this condition is diagnosed, treatment needs to start right away.

Treatment and prevention

The treatment goal is to prevent the disease of getting worse and controlling the symptoms. Hospital stay may be needed for some people to control the symptoms more efficiently. Special care and constant observation should be applied if the individual is unconscious, lethargic or in a state of coma. Thiamine should be given by mouth or injections in a muscle or a vein. This may be good for improving the state of delirium and confusion, the lack of coordination in the muscles and the difficulties with eye movement and vision. Thiamine cannot help with memory loss and loss of intellect. In order to prevent Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome development, a person may stop drinking alcohol or drink responsibly and eat nutritious food. If an alcoholic doesn’t want to quit drinking, thiamine supplements together with nutritious diet may decrease the risk of the disease, but not prevent it completely. If a person already has the condition, not drinking alcohol can prevent the additional brain damage and damage to the nerves. Nutritious diet is also helpful, but not as helpful as if a person quits drinking alcohol.

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