Stephen J. Schueler, M.D.

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Alcoholic Encephalopathy Overview

Another name for Alcoholic Encephalopathy is Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome.

What is Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome?
A person with Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome has abnormal brain function caused by a lack of vitamin B1, called thiamine. Thiamine is present in many foods. Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is most common in those who abuse alcohol, because alcohol interferes with the absorption of thiamine from the intestine. Without thiamine, cells in the brain, spinal cord, and nerves malfunction. Prolonged lack of thiamine results in damage to the brain cells.

What are the symptoms of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome?
Initial symptoms of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome may include difficulty speaking, difficulty walking, eyelid drooping, facial weakness, hand tremor, and loss of coordination. Symptoms of severe Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome include hallucinations, memory loss and confusion.

How does the doctor treat Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome?
Treatment for Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome includes avoiding alcohol, counseling for alcoholism, a healthy diet, and vitamin B supplements.

Continue to Alcoholic Encephalopathy Incidence

Last Updated: Jan 7, 2011 References
Authors: Stephen J. Schueler, MD; John H. Beckett, MD; D. Scott Gettings, MD
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PubMed Alcoholic Encephalopathy References
  1. Day E, Bentham P, Callaghan R, Kuruvilla T, George S. Thiamine for Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome in people at risk from alcohol abuse. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2004;(1):CD004033. [14974055]
  2. Jauhar P, Montaldi D. Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome and the use of brain imaging. Alcohol Alcohol Suppl. 2000 May-Jun;35(1):21-3. [11304072]
  3. Thomson AD. Mechanisms of vitamin deficiency in chronic alcohol misusers and the development of the Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Alcohol Alcohol Suppl. 2000 May-Jun;35(1):2-7. [11304071]
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