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Living with Dementia

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome and vitamin B1

  • - Dementia News
  • Feb 22, 2012
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  • Viewed: 2412
Tags: | alcoholic encephalopathy | anterograde amnesia | encephalopathy-alcoholic | korsakoff psychosis |

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, if it is not caught and properly diagnosed, will only do one thing; it will get much worse. It can reach a point where the damages that it has caused cannot be reversed, and in some cases, it can be life threatening. However, it does have one very effective treatment; vitamin B1, also known as thiamine. But there is some misconception about this syndrome in that it is always the result of long term alcohol abuse that depletes this vitamin in your body. Although this is the most common cause, it is by no means the only cause.

What is it?

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is a brain disorder that can very easily develop into long term brain damage if it not caught in the early stages and treated. It is the result of a lack of vitamin B1, Thiamin, which is most commonly caused by long term alcohol abuse that depletes your body of this critical nutrient. It is also sometimes referred to by other names such as Alcohol encephalopathy, Wernicke’s disease, as well as Korsakoff psychosis. In the advanced stages of this syndrome, the damages that are caused include total loss of memory as well as logic and thinking skills.

This syndrome is quite often diagnosed as two separate conditions; Korsakoff syndrome as well as Wernicke’s encephalopathy. However, in most all cases, they are considered to be the same disease, but they are in different stages. Vitamin B1 is critical in your body as it preforms several different functions that include your nervous system as well as muscle functions, but with this syndrome, it is the nervous system that is the hardest hit. Your body stores very little of this vitamin, and because of this, a depletion can occur as quickly as 14 to 21 days.

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome will occur in different stages, and the first stage is referred to as Wernicke’s encephalopathy. In this stage, bleeding will occur in areas of your brain that are particularly vulnerable to low thiamine levels, and these areas include your midbrain, the mammillary bodies, as well as the thalamus. The mammillary bodies are a pair of very small round bodies that are located just on the undersurface of your brain, and the thalamus is a paired structure within the brain. It is located between your cerebral cortex and your midbrain.

This bleeding can and often does lead to several issues including confusion, very strange eye movements, as well as a loss of balance. However, the next stage, which is Korsakoff syndrome, can be prevented if the symptoms are caught very early, diagnosed, and treated. It this is done, it can in most all cases stop the progression of this potentially life threatening disease. But if the thiamine deficiency is allowed to continue unchecked, it advances into the next stage.

This stage is extremely dangerous as your brain will not be able to input any new memories and it is highly unlikely that the damage that is done can be revered.

How to Prevent Korsakoff’s Syndrome

To reduce your risk of developing Korsakoff’s syndrome:

Proper diet is key. Foods that are rich in thiamine include: lentils, peas, fortified breakfast cereal, pecans, spinach, oranges, milk, and eggs.
Do not drink alcohol or only drink in moderation.
If you have a drinking problem, talk to your doctor right way about treatment options

Although long term alcohol abuse is the most common cause of this syndrome, there are also several other potential causes of a thiamine deficiency. The first of these is AIDS as well as most any form of cancer that has spread to several areas of your body. If you are pregnant and experience extreme episodes of nausea or vomiting, it can also rapidly deplete this nutrient in your body simply because it stores so little of it. Long period of intravenous feeding, dialysis, as well as very high thyroid hormone levels can also deplete the levels of this critical nutrient in your body.

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