Chronic misuse of alcohol may have far greater health effects than many people realize. When alcohol is heavily and regularly consumed over time, the body becomes impaired in many ways. These disruptions to natural bodily processes can cause a waterfall effect of health concerns, including the often misdiagnosed or under recognized Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome.
About Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS)
Alcohol use disorder is the leading cause of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS). WKS is a combination of two diseases that occur simultaneously: Wernicke’s disease (or encephalopathy) and Korsakoff syndrome. WKS begins as Wernicke’s disease, which results from malnutrition, particularly in regard to certain vitamin and mineral deficits.
Thiamine, or vitamin B1, deficiency is the main culprit in this beginning stage of WKS. Vitamin B1 is an essential nutrient used by almost every tissue in the body to perform daily functions This vitamin is also water soluble, making it easy for the body to absorb when given the proper opportunity. Foods such as red meats, poultry, whole grains, and nuts contain considerable amounts of thiamine and are easily integrated into most diets on a daily basis.
The lack of vitamin B1 can cause a myriad of health concerns, including weakened muscles, joint pain, confusion, fatigue, vision disorders, heart and kidney diseases, and more. Research has shown great promise in the ability of vitamin B1 supplements to help reverse some of the symptoms of thiamine deficiency, even those that are more serious. Luckily, thiamine supplements are easily obtainable in most markets and drug stores without a prescription.
Other symptoms of Wernicke’s disease include:
- Blurred or impaired vision
- Drooping eyelids
- Irregular side-to-side or up-and-down eye movement
- Loss of muscle control, spasms, and weakness that affects walking and other simple tasks
Development of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome
An extended lack of thiamine in the diet may lead to more serious consequences. Wernicke’s disease may develop into the more complex Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome if symptoms go untreated or misdiagnosed.
Symptoms of WKS may include:
- Difficulty discerning information, even basic understanding
- Amnesia or repetitive forgetfulness
- Hallucinations or abnormal visions while awake
- Exaggerated storytelling
- Repeatedly having trouble finding the correct words to describe a situation or experience
If you are concerned that you or a loved one may be exhibiting any of these symptoms, tell your team of healthcare professionals as soon as possible. Most of the debilitating symptoms that accompany WKS are reversible if addressed promptly. Doctors and dietitians will perform numerous blood tests and a dietary analysis to determine your thiamine levels and to potentially diagnose Wernicke’s disease or WKS.
Treatment for WKS is simple: B1 injections or oral supplements, a healthy diet, and treatment for alcoholism. Left untreated, WKS has a high mortality rate, leading to lung infection, blood poisoning, and irreversible brain damage. While abstaining from alcohol use is key to long-term healing from WKS, the disease can still affect those who have stopped using alcohol if proper nutrients aren’t restored to the body.
We Can Help
St. Gregory Recovery Center understands the complications and deficiencies that can arise from alcohol use disorder, and our team of medical and therapeutic professionals will assess your health needs and design a recovery program that will give you the best opportunity to live a healthy and sober life. Please reach out with any questions or concerns. We are here for you and your loved ones.