Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome - Symptom
Korsakoff psychosis; Alcoholic encephalopathy; Encephalopathy - alcoholic; Wernicke's disease
Symptoms of Wernicke's encephalopathy:
Symptoms of Korsakoff syndrome:
- Inability to form new memories
- Loss of memory, can be severe
- Making up stories (confabulation)
- Seeing or hearing things that aren't really there (hallucinations)
Note: There may also be symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
Signs and tests:
Examination of the nervous/muscular system may show damage to many nerve systems:
- Abnormal eye movement
- Decreased or abnormal reflexes
- Fast pulse (heart rate)
- Low blood pressure
- Low body temperature
- Muscle weakness and atrophy (loss of tissue mass)
- Problems with walk (gait) and coordination
The person may appear poorly nourished. The following tests are used to check a person's nutrition level:
- Serum albumin (relates to person's general nutrition)
- Serum vitamin B1 levels
- Transketolase activity in red blood cells (reduced in people with thiamine deficiency)
Blood or urine alcohol levels and liver enzymes may be high in people with a history of long-term alcohol abuse.
Other conditions that may cause thiamine deficiency include:
- Cancers that have spread throughout the body
- Extreme nausea and vomiting during pregnancy (hyperemesis gravidarum)
- Heart failure (when treated with long-term diuretic therapy)
- Long periods of intravenous (IV) therapy without receiving thiamine supplements
- Long-term dialysis
- Very high thyroid hormone levels (thyrotoxicosis)
A brain MRI may show changes in the tissue of the brain, but if Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is suspected, treatment should start immediately. Usually a brain MRI exam is not needed.
- Reviewed last on: 2/6/2010
- David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Luc Jasmin, MD, PhD, Department of Neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, and Department of Anatomy at UCSF, San Francisco, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
Brust JCM. Nutrition and alcohol-related neurologic disorders. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 443.
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