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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:
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. Most symptoms will fade with treatment. Memory problems may continue.
Thiamine needs to be brought to normal levels quickly. Treatment involves:
To reduce the risk:
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