Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome: Signs, Causes, Treatment

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome is a brain disorder or a neurological problem caused by lack of thiamine in the body. This disease is two different things the wernicke disease and korsakoff syndrome but they occur at the same time.

woman sitting infront of laptop holding temples due to headache

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome is a brain disorder or a neurological problem caused by a lack of thiamine in the body. This disease is two different things the Wernicke disease and korsakoff syndrome but they occur at the same time.

Signs of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

Although Wernicke-korsakoff syndrome is different from each other the symptoms come along together. The brain will be damaged as a result of thiamine deficiency that may cause movement if the memory, incapable of learning something.

Loss of memory

Loss of memory is one of the major signs if Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. Usually, patients forget the recent events before the disease occurs.

Difficulty of learning

People who are suffering from of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome have difficulties in learning things or acquiring information in severe cases they are not able to learn and understand.

Changes in attitude

Due to brain damage personality may change such as apathy, indifference, violence towards people, overreaction towards events and unable to communicate well.


A condition where a person is not aware of his disease. Usually, if a person is suffering from this condition he is not aware of what is happening in their health and even they have difficulties in remembering things they think they are just fine and can work accordingly.


Because they can’t remember something they tend to make up stories to fill in the gaps of their memories and information they cannot remember and they had this over storytelling.

Unable to concentrate

They are not able to concentrate on something and not able to come up plan and own decision.

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome Causes

Vitamin B1 Deficiency

Thiamine or known as vitamin B1 is very important in brain metabolism, energy production and production of neurotransmitters of the brain. Thiamine levels will depend on caloric intake. The proportion of calories and carbohydrate also play a big role in thiamine in the body. That’s why when our body is lacks of thiamin the energy will also decrease especially in the brain area like medial thalamus and periaqueductal gray matter. When our body is lack of vitamin B1or our body cannot properly absorb vitamin B1


Too much alcohol in the body can impair the absorption of thiamine. Because of alcoholic intake reduce the transport of thiamine through intestinal mucosa; reduce the capacity of storing vitamins. When the body unable to store enough vitamins it will cause metabolism disorder and problem in brain function. Ethanol has a big effect on thiamine in the body. If the body is high in ethanol it will interfere with the storing of thiamine in the body. Ethanol also disrupts thiamine in the liver and ethanol is an alcohol component.

Poor nutrition

Poor nutrition will lead to vitamin deficiency and following an unhealthy diet will result in excessive vomiting. Vitamin B1 can store in the body for about 18 days and constant vomiting will reduce vitamin B1 in the body.

Chronic disease

Sometimes chronic diseases such as AIDS/HIV, cancer, stomach disorder and kidney problem can cause Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome.

Treatment of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

If a person is diagnosed with Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome treatment should start immediately to avoid another health complication and progress of the disease.

The first thing the patient family should do is they will send the patient to the hospital. To make sure that the digestive system of the patient is absorbing properly. Treatment may include the following.

  • Vitamin B1 through Intravenous Line (IV) insertion
  • Oral vitamin B1
  • Balance diet full of vitamin B1 foods to make the level of vitamin B1 high
  • Gradual treatment of alcoholism

Negative absorption of medication may vary. It might be the result of alcohol withdrawal that may display symptoms like irritability, mood swing, insomnia, and sweating.

Diagnosis of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

Diagnosing Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome can be done by doing a formal neuropsychological assessment. Checking the complete health history of the patient, detailed history of the patient and specialized clinical trials.

Risk factors

As what pointed above alcoholism and poor nutrition are the main reason for having Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome but there are other factors that can be a reason for vitamin B1 deficiency.

Genetic factors

Genes also play a role in having this disease. If your close relative is suffering from Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome there is a big factor that you have this too.

Magnesium deficiency

Magnesium acts as the metabolic conversion of vitamin B1 in the body. If magnesium increases thiamine also increases in the body.

Systemic disease

Diseases that can harm metabolism are also the factors why the body cannot store vitamin B1 properly such as prolonged infections in the body.

People who are undergoing kidney dialysis are also at the high risk of developing Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome which absorption of vitamin B1 is reduced. Socio-economic deprivation also plays a big role in having this disease due to a lack of capacity to buy decent food.

Prevention of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome can be prevented and avoided to follow a balanced diet. Balance diet means eating vegetables, fruits, rice, lean meat, beans, and dairy product such as milk. If you are drinking it’s better to quit drinking so that you can avoid having Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome.

If you can see the sign and symptoms of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome to your relatives, friends, and love ones advise them to consult their doctor to treat the early sign of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome so that the disease won’t progress anymore and they can still leave normally.

Facts about Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

  1. 75 % of WKS case resulted in death
  2. It can be treated if diagnosed early
  3. This type of syndrome can cause loss of memory or ‘amnesia”
  4. Vitamin B1 is also called thiamine
  5. 80 % of people suffering from this type of syndrome never receive diagnoses.
  6. 10% of brain damage caused by alcoholism and 24 % of cases of dementia are linked to alcoholism.
  7. According to studies WKS case is rising in every year
  8. Mostly of the WKS patients are homeless ad cannot afford hospitalization and decent food.

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