About wernicke-korsakoff syndrome

What is wernicke-korsakoff syndrome?

Wernicke syndrome and Korsakoff syndrome are related disorders that often occur due to a deficiency of thiamine (vitamin B1). Wernicke's syndrome, also known as Wernicke encephalopathy, is a neurological disease characterized by the clinical triad of confusion, the inability to coordinate voluntary movement (ataxia), and eye (ocular) abnormalities. Korsakoff's syndrome is a mental disorder characterized by disproportionate memory loss in relation to other mental aspects. When these two disorders occur together, the term Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is used. In the United States, most cases occur in alcoholics.

Some researchers believe Wernicke and Korsakoff syndromes are separate yet related disorders; others believe them to be different stages of the same disorder or disease spectrum. Wernicke syndrome is considered the acute phase with a shorter duration and more serious symptoms. Korsakoff syndrome is considered the chronic phase and is a long-lasting condition.

What are the symptoms for wernicke-korsakoff syndrome?

The main signs of Wernicke encephalopathy are:

  • Balance and movement issues. You might have leg tremors, and your walk might become slow and unsteady, with a wide stance and short steps. You may need help standing and getting around, and your arms and legs might feel weak.
  • Confusion. You may feel out of it and lose interest in what’s happening around you.
  • Eye problems. You may have double vision, your eyelids might droop, or your eyes may move around quickly.

What are the causes for wernicke-korsakoff syndrome?

The no. 1 cause of WKS is alcoholism.

The less common causes of WKS are conditions that limit nutritional absorption. Eating and nutrient absorption can be restricted by:

  • gastric bypass surgery, which makes it difficult to meet nutritional needs due to limited food portions
  • gastric cancer, which may limit the absorption of essential nutrients
  • colon cancer, which can result in pain that causes you to put off eating
  • eating disorders

Alcoholism is the no. 1 cause of WKS because people with the condition generally have a poor diet. Alcohol also prevents vitamin B-1 absorption and storage.

What are the treatments for wernicke-korsakoff syndrome?

The first step is to get plenty of vitamin B1. You’ll probably have it put directly into a vein through a needle in your hand or arm (an IV). You might need to have this every day for several months.

From there, it’s important to stay away from alcohol and eat a balanced diet. That’ll help keep symptoms from coming back.

If it affects how you walk, you’ll likely need physical therapy.

What are the risk factors for wernicke-korsakoff syndrome?

Risk factors for WKS are related to your diet and lifestyle.

The major risk factors for developing WKS are malnourishment and chronic alcohol misuse. Other risk factors for WKS include:

  • inability to afford medical care and proper food
  • kidney dialysis, which reduces vitamin B-1 absorption
  • AIDS, which makes you more likely to develop conditions that lead to vitamin B-1 deficiency

Is there a cure/medications for wernicke-korsakoff syndrome?

Your recovery will depend mostly on how early you started treatment.

If you catch and treat it early, you can make a full recovery, but it could take up to a year. Confusion and issues related to it are often the last symptoms to go away.

Video related to wernicke-korsakoff syndrome