is a two-stage brain disorder
caused by a deficiency of thiamine
(vitamin B-1). Thiamine helps brain
cells produce energy from sugar.
When levels of the vitamin are too
low, cells are unable to generate
enough energy to function properly.
Wernicke encephalopathy is the
first, acute phase and Korsakoff psychosis
is the long-lasting, chronic
stage. The most common cause is
alcoholism, but the syndrome can
also be associated with AIDS, cancers
that have spread through the body,
very high levels of thyroid hormone,
and certain other conditions.
- Confusion, permanent gaps in memory and problems with learning new information.
- Individuals may have a tendency to "confabulate," or make up information they can't
remember; they are not "lying,” but may actually believe the invented explanation.
- Unsteadiness, muscle weakness and lack of coordination.
- Recent research suggests a genetic variation called APOE-e4 may be associated
with a higher risk of Wernicke-Korsakoff in individuals who drink heavily. APOEe4
is also linked to a higher risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.
- If the condition is caught early and drinking stops, treatment with high-dose
thiamine may reverse some, but usually not all, of the damage.
- In later stages, damage is more severe and does not respond to treatment.
Family Caregiver Alliance: Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome
The Family Caregiver Alliance is a nonprofit organization offering national, state
and local programs and information resources to support and sustain caregivers
providing long-term care at home.
Medline Plus: Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
Medline Plus is a consumer health information service of the U.S. National
Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health (NIH). This Medline Plus
encyclopedia article provides basic information about symptoms, causes and
treatment of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.
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