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NINDS Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome Information Page

Synonym(s):   Korsakoff's Amnesic Syndrome, Cerebral Beriberi

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What is Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome?

Wernicke's encephalopathy is a degenerative brain disorder caused by the lack of thiamine (vitamin B1). It may result from alcohol abuse, dietary deficiencies, prolonged vomiting, eating disorders, or the effects of chemotherapy. Symptoms include mental confusion, vision impairment, stupor, coma, hypothermia, hypotension, and ataxia. Korsakoff's amnesic syndrome-a memory disorder-also results from a deficiency of thiamine, and is associated with alcoholism. The heart, vascular, and nervous system are involved. Symptoms include amnesia, confabulation, attention deficit, disorientation, and vision impairment. The main features of Korsakoff's amnesic syndrome are the impairments in acquiring new information or establishing new memories, and in retrieving previous memories. Although Wernicke's and Korsakoff's may appear to be two different disorders, they are generally considered to be different stages of the same disorder, which is called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Wernicke's encephalopathy represents the "acute" phase of the disorder, and Korsakoff's amnesic syndrome represents the "chronic" phase.

Is there any treatment?

Treatment involves replacement of thiamine and providing proper nutrition and hydration. In some cases, drug therapy is also recommended.

What is the prognosis?

Most symptoms can be reversed if detected and treated promptly. However, improvement in memory function is slow and, usually, incomplete. Without treatment, these disorders can be disabling and life-threatening.

What research is being done?

The NINDS supports research on neurological disorders such as Wernicke's encephalopathy, Korsakoff's amnesic syndrome, and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, aimed at finding ways to prevent them. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism also supports research on these disorders.

NIH Patient Recruitment for Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome Clinical Trials

Organizations

Column1 Column2
Family Caregiver Alliance/ National Center on Caregiving
785 Market St.
Suite 750
San Francisco, CA   94103
info@caregiver.org
http://www.caregiver.org
Tel: 415-434-3388 800-445-8106
Fax: 415-434-3508

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)
National Institutes of Health, DHHS
5635 Fishers Lane, MSC 9304
Bethesda, MD   20892-9304
http://www.niaaa.nih.gov
Tel: 301-443-3860



Prepared by:
Office of Communications and Public Liaison
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, MD 20892



NINDS health-related material is provided for information purposes only and does not necessarily represent endorsement by or an official position of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke or any other Federal agency. Advice on the treatment or care of an individual patient should be obtained through consultation with a physician who has examined that patient or is familiar with that patient's medical history.

All NINDS-prepared information is in the public domain and may be freely copied. Credit to the NINDS or the NIH is appreciated.

Last updated February 14, 2007