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NINDS Disorders is an index of neurological conditions provided by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. This valuable tool offers detailed descriptions, facts on treatment and prognosis, and patient organization contact information for over 500 identified neurological disorders.

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Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

Wernicke's encephalopathy is a degenerative brain disorder caused by the lack of thiamine (vitamin B1). It may result from alcohol abuse, dietary deficiencies, prolonged vomiting, eating disorders, or the effects of chemotherapy. Symptoms include mental confusion, vision impairment, stupor, coma, hypothermia, hypotension, and ataxia. Korsakoff's amnesic syndrome-a memory disorder-also results from a deficiency of thiamine, and is associated with alcoholism. The heart, vascular, and nervous system are involved. Symptoms include amnesia, confabulation, attention deficit, disorientation, and vision impairment. The main features of Korsakoff's amnesic syndrome are the impairments in acquiring new information or establishing new memories, and in retrieving previous memories. Although Wernicke's and Korsakoff's may appear to be two different disorders, they are generally considered to be different stages of the same disorder, which is called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Wernicke's encephalopathy represents the "acute" phase of the disorder, and Korsakoff's amnesic syndrome represents the "chronic" phase.

Treatment

Treatment involves replacement of thiamine and providing proper nutrition and hydration. In some cases, drug therapy is also recommended.

Prognosis

Most symptoms can be reversed if detected and treated promptly. However, improvement in memory function is slow and, usually, incomplete. Without treatment, these disorders can be disabling and life-threatening.

Research

The NINDS supports research on neurological disorders such as Wernicke's encephalopathy, Korsakoff's amnesic syndrome, and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, aimed at finding ways to prevent them. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism also supports research on these disorders.

View a list of studies currently seeking patients.

View more studies on this condition.

Organizations

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)

National Institutes of Health, DHHS
5635 Fishers Lane, MSC 9304
Bethesda, MD 20892-9304
Tel: 301-443-3860

Family Caregiver Alliance/ National Center on Caregiving

Supports and assists families and caregivers of adults with debilitating health conditions. Offers programs and consultation on caregiving issues at local, state, and national levels. Offers free publications and support online, including a national directory of publicly funded caregiver support programs.

785 Market St.
Suite 750
San Francisco, CA 94103
Tel: 415-434-3388 800-445-8106
Fax: 415-434-3508

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