Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS) is a type of brain disorder caused by a lack of vitamin B-1. The syndrome is actually two separate conditions that can occur at the same time. Usually, people get the symptoms of Wernicke’s encephalopathy first.
Also called Wernicke’s disease, people with Wernicke’s encephalopathy have bleeding in the lower sections of the brain, including the thalamus and hypothalamus. These areas of the brain control the nervous and endocrine systems. The bleeding causes brain damage that presents symptoms involving your vision, coordination, and balance.
The signs of Korsakoff psychosis tend to follow as the Wernicke’s symptoms decrease. If Wernicke’s disease is treated quickly and effectively, Korsakoff syndrome may not develop. Korsakoff psychosis is the result of chronic brain damage. Korsakoff syndrome affects the areas of your brain that control memory.
Alcoholism, or chronic alcohol abuse, is the most common cause of WKS. WKS can also be linked to diet deficiencies or other medical conditions that impair vitamin B-1 absorption. Vitamin B-1 is also called thiamine.
To diagnose WKS, your doctor will look for clinical signs that point to a vitamin B-1 deficiency. This can include blood tests that measure thiamine levels and your general nutritional health, as well as tests to check your liver function.
Chronic alcoholism can damage your liver, elevating your liver enzymes. Diagnosis includes a physical examination to assess your:
After diagnosis, your doctor will most likely give you vitamin B-1 intravenously, or through your vein. Fast treatment may reverse many of the neurological symptoms of WKS.
The key to recovery is maintaining adequate vitamin B-1 levels, which means refraining from alcohol abuse if you have WKS. You should also eat a balanced diet.