(Cerebral Beriberi; Korsakoff's Amnesic Syndrome)
DefinitionKorsakoff's syndrome is a group of symptoms that affect memory, usually in patients with alcoholism. It often occurs following Wernicke encephalopathy .
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CausesKorsakoff syndrome is caused by a lack of vitamin B1 , also known as thiamine. This is also always associated with alcoholism, since a poor diet and alcohol can prevent the body from getting enough thiamine. Not everyone with alcoholism develops Korsakoff syndrome. A combination of genes and diet may play a role.
Risk FactorsFactors that increase your chance of developing Korsakoff's syndrome include:
- Alcohol abuse
SymptomsSymptoms of Korsakoff syndrome may include:
- Memory problems
- Learning difficulty
- Communication problems
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty with walking and balance
DiagnosisYou will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. Your mental function will be assessed. Testing your ability to learn new information most likely will show if you have this condition. If you are an alcoholic and/or have had Wernicke's syndrome, Korsakoff's syndrome is seriously considered as the cause of your memory problem.
TreatmentTalk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Options include:
RehabilitationYou may be referred to an alcohol rehabilitation facility if alcoholism is the cause of your condition.
Thiamine SupplementsYou will be given thiamine to treat the thiamine deficiency.
Dietary ChangesYou will need to drink plenty of fluids. You may also be referred to a dietitian to help with meal planning, especially if your diet is high in carbohydrates.
PreventionKorsakoff syndrome often occurs following Wernicke encephalopathy. To reduce your risk:
- Ensure that you are getting enough thiamine in your diet. This is 1.1 mg a day for women and 1.2 mg a day for men. 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 away about treatment options.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
Alcoholics Anonymous Canada
Dietitians of Canada
Harper C. Thiamine deficiency and associated brain damage is still common throughout the world and prevention is simple and safe. Eur J Neurol. 2006,13:1078-1082.
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Korsakoff syndrome. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated January 16, 2012. Accessed December 22, 2014.
Kuo SH, Debnam JM, et al. Wernicke's encephalopathy: an underrecognized and reversible cause of confusional state in cancer patients. Oncology. 2009;76(1):10-18.
Lukas RV, Piantino J, et al. MRI changes in a head and neck cancer patient with Wernicke’s Encephalopathy and visual loss. Neuro-Ophthalmology. 2011;35(5-6):272-275.
Thomson AD, Marshall EJ. The natural history and pathophysiology of Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s psychosis. Alcohol Alcohol. 2006,41:151.
Yoon CK, Chang MH, et al. Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome associated with hyperemesis gravidarum. Korean J Ophthalmol. 2005;19(3):239-242.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 12/2014
- Update Date: 12/20/2014
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