Wernicke’s encephalopathy refers to the presence of neurological symptoms (affecting the brain, spinal cord, or nerves) brought on by a thiamine deficiency. A thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency is often associated with alcoholism but can also be due to bariatric surgery (operations performed to reduce the size of the stomach so an individual can lose weight), prolonged starvation, or HIV/AIDS.
Symptoms of this condition may include uncontrolled or unintentional muscle movements, confusion, and eye abnormalities. Chronic thiamine deficiency could lead to Korsakoff syndrome (please also see Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome). Taking thiamine supplements can improve the patient’s condition when treated early, but late-stage Wernicke encephalopathy can be significantly disabling. Patients who have been treated for Wernicke's encephalopathy should avoid alcohol consumption and other behaviors that may make them more susceptible to thiamine deficiency. Talk with your doctor if you or a family member has been diagnosed with Wernicke’s encephalopathy to discuss treatment and care plan options. Support groups are also a good source of support and information.