Wernicke encephalopathy is a brain disease. It can lead to confusion, poor muscle control, and other problems. If left untreated, it can get worse and even be fatal.
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Wernicke encephalopathy is caused by low thiamine (vitamin B1) levels. This may be due to a poor diet, problems absorbing vitamins, or both.
Wernicke encephalopathy is most common in people with alcohol use disorder. Other things that raise the risk are:
Symptoms may be:
- Mental changes, such as:
- Problems staying focused
- Memory loss
- Vision problems
- Problems walking and sitting
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done.
A blood test can check thiamine levels.
Wernicke encephalopathy needs to be treated right away. Options are:
- Thiamine supplements—to treat low thiamine levels
- Diet changes
- Treatment for alcohol abuse disorder or eating disorders
To reduce the risk:
Eat foods high in thiamine, such as:
- Lentils and peas
- Cereal—with added vitamins
- Milk and eggs
- Limit alcohol or treat alcohol abuse disorder.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
National Institute on Aging
Alzheimer Society Canada
Public Health Agency of Canada
Alcohol-related brain damage (including Korsakoff’s syndrome). Alzheimer’s Society website. Available at: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/info/20007/types_of_dementia/14/alcohol-related_brain_damage_including_korsakoffs_syndrome. Accessed March 2, 2021.
Sinha S, Kataria A, Kolla BP, et al. Wernicke encephalopathy-clinical pearls. Mayo Clin Proc. 2019;94(6):1065-1072.
Wernicke encephalopathy. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/wernicke-encephalopathy. Accessed March 2, 2021.
Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Patient website. Available at: https://patient.info/doctor/wernicke-korsakoff-syndrome. Accessed March 2, 2021.
Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Radiopaedia website. Available at: https://radiopaedia.org/articles/wernicke-korsakoff-syndrome. Accessed March 2, 2021.
Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Wernicke-Korsakoff-Syndrome-Information-Page. Accessed March 2, 2021.
Last reviewed January 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD Last Updated: 3/2/2021