Wernicke’s Encephalopathy can develop quite suddenly and the symptoms are easy to miss or can even be mistaken for drunkenness. The condition is commonly brought about by malnutrition and deficiency in essential vitamins. Deficiency of thiamine in heavy drinkers is common due to their poor eating habits or frequent vomiting or damage caused by drinking to their stomach and/or liver; all of which can lead to a shortage of essential vitamins.
What causes Wernicke’s Encephalopathy?
Long term abuse and/or consumption of alcohol can cause inflammation to the stomach lining; it is here that the body absorbs essential vitamins and minerals. If inflammation occurs, it can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb vitamins from food intake. It is in the stomach that the absorption of Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) occurs. This essential vitamin is largely responsible for converting food into energy and providing essential nutrients to the brain and nervous system. When someone becomes deficient in Vitamin B1, they can start to show the signs of Wernicke’s.
Wernicke’s encephalopathy reflects a loss of specific brain functions. People with Wernicke’s syndrome are often mistakenly thought to be drunk because of symptoms such as uncoordinated walking and confusion.
Wernicke’s can occur suddenly, sometimes within hours. Immediate hospital treatment is required, which generally involves an injection of thiamine. If an individual receives such treatment, recovery is often successful, however, failure to recognise Wernicke’s and receive the necessary treatment can often lead onto Korskoff’s Syndrome, largely due to the damage created by Wernicke’s to the brain and in particular the memory.