Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome

An uncommon brain disorder almost always related to malnutrition occurring in chronic alcohol dependence, but occasionally due to that which occurs in other conditions, such as cancer. Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome is caused by deficiency of thiamine (see vitamin B complex), which affects the brain and nervous system. The disease consists of 2 stages: Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s psychosis. Wernicke’s encephalopathy usually develops suddenly and produces nystagmus (abnormal, jerky eye movements), ataxia (difficulty in coordinating body movements), slowness, and confusion. Sufferers usually have signs of neuropathy, such as loss of sensation, pins-and-needles, or impaired reflexes. The level of consciousness falls progressively and may lead to coma and death unless treated. The condition is a medical emergency. Treatment with high doses of intravenous thiamine often reverses most of the symptoms, sometimes within a few hours. Korsakoff’s psychosis may follow Wernicke’s encephalopathy if treatment is not begun promptly enough. Symptoms consist of severe amnesia, apathy, and disorientation. Korsakoff’s psychosis is usually irreversible.


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