Both Korsakoff’s amnesic syndrome and Wernicke’s encephalopathy are caused by a lack of thiamine or B1 vitamin. This lack may be the result of alcoholism, prolonged vomiting, eating disorders or be a result of the side effects of chemotherapy.
Korsakoff’s and Wernicke’s are two different disorders but are often considered to be two different stages of the same disorder called the Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Korsakoff’s is the chronic or constant phase of the disorder while Wernicke’s is the acute or severe but brief phase.
Korsakoff’s is a memory disorder that also involves the heart, vascular and nervous systems. Symptoms may include amnesia, confabulation, attention deficit, disorientation and vision impairment. Individuals with Korsakoff’s are unable to acquire new information, establish new memories or retrieve old memories.
Wernicke’s is a degenerative brain disorder with symptoms including mental confusion, vision impairment, stupor, coma, hypothermia, hypertension and ataxia.
If symptoms are detected and treated early then the prognosis is usually good. Symptoms are usually easily detectable during the early stages. The only issue is if a person waits to seek medical help. As it gets worse the disease becomes more difficult to treat. Most symptoms will reverse quickly after being treated. The one exception is memory. Memory function tends to be slow to improve. Even when it does improve It often does not completely heal to 100% the way it was before. Individuals may never get some of their memories back or they may always shave trouble forming new memories for the rest of their life.
The treatment for Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is the simple replacement of thiamine and proper nutrition and hydration. Some cases drug therapy is recommended. If the cause of the thiamine deficiet is alcohol related then detox is often necessary and sometimes the patient is sent to rehab. If the cause is an eating disorder then counseling is recommended.
If Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is not treated it can become disabling and even life-threatening.
The best prevention for Wernicke’s and Korsakoff’s is proper nutrition. With proper nutrition you will receive enough thiamine and will not experience such a high deficit of thiamine. Individuals with a healthy diet who do not drink alcohol excessively are highly unlikely to suffer from this condition.
If you know an alcoholic this condition prevention of this syndrome is just one of many reasons why you should help them to get help to quit drinking. Alcohol in large quantities on a regular basis is extremely detrimental to your health.