by Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Wernicke encephalopathy is a brain disorder. It can be associated with a variety of symptoms such as confusion, lack of muscle coordination, and eye movement difficulties.
Wernicke encephalopathy is caused by thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency. The deficiency may be caused by poor nutrition, problems absorbing vitamins, or both.
Vitamin B deficiency is common in those with alcohol use disorder (AUD). Excessive intake of alcohol is associated with poor diets and damage to the intestines that make it difficult to absorb vitamins. However, not everyone with AUD develops Wernicke encephalopathy. A combination of genes and diet may play a role.
Risk Factors TOP
Factors that may increase your chances of Wernicke encephalopathy:
Symptoms may include:
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
A blood tests can measure the level of thiamine in your blood.
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Options include:
If Wernicke encephalopathy is associated with AUD or an eating disorder, you may be referred to a rehabilitation facility.
To help reduce your chances of Wernicke encephalopathy:
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
National Institute on Aging
Alzheimer Society Canada
Public Health Agency of Canada
Alcohol-related brain damage (including Korsakoff’s syndrome). Alzheimer’s Society website. Available at: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/info/20007/types_of_dementia/14/alcohol-related_brain_damage_including_korsakoffs_syndrome. Accessed December 21, 2017.
Kaineg B, Hudgins M. Wernicke’s encephalopathy. N Engl J Med. 2005;352(19):e18.
Lukas RV, Piantino J, Ksiazek S, 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.
Wernicke encephalopathy. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed... . Updated June 15, 2017. Accessed December 21, 2017.
Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Patient website. Available at: https://patient.info/doctor/wernicke-korsakoff-syndrome. Updated September 19, 2014. Accessed December 21, 2017.
Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Radiopaedia website. Available at: https://radiopaedia.org/articles/wernicke-korsakoff-syndrome. Accessed December 21, 2017
Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome information page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Wernicke-Korsakoff-Syndrome-Information-Page. Accessed December 21, 2017.
Last reviewed November 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD
Last Updated: 11/16/2015
EBSCO Information Services is fully accredited by URAC. URAC is an independent, nonprofit health care accrediting organization dedicated to promoting health care quality through accreditation, certification and commendation.
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
To send comments or feedback to our Editorial Team regarding the content please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our Health Library Support team will respond to your email request within 2 business days.