Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome: causes and symptoms

The functioning of memory in humans is one of the most complex and difficult aspects to study in the field of psychology and cognitive science.

However, there are a number of conditions that serve to help you better understand the basics of memory. Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is one of them.

What is Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome?

In summary, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is a brain disorder caused by vitamin B1 deficiency (Also called thiamine). This syndrome can also be understood as the union of two different mental disorders: Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff syndrome.

Let’s find out what each of these pathologies consists of, as well as their main symptoms and some possible forms of treatment.

Wernicke’s encephalopathy

It is a neurological disease caused by a lack of thiamine. Its symptoms are related to the lack of coordination during the movements necessary for walking (ataxia), problems with moving the eyes and the appearance of a constant state of confusion.

Korsakoff syndrome

In Korsakoff syndrome, or Korsakoff psychosis, its symptoms are more developed with memory problems, to the point that this syndrome is usually included in the types of amnesia.

Thus, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is a symptom picture that encompasses problems that appear both in Wernicke’s encelopathy and those associated with Korsakoff psychosis. While the symptoms of the former manifest as an acute symptomatic peak, those of Korsakoff syndrome are chronic..

The spectrum of symptoms related to Korsakoff syndrome usually appears when the symptoms of Wernicke encephalopathy disappear.

Symptoms of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome

The diagnosis of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome can only be made by medically trained specialists. However, it is good recognize the main symptoms by which these experts are guided in the detection of the syndrome, whether a person should consult the doctor or not.

The main symptoms related to Wernicke’s encephalopathy these are:

  • The appearance of tremors in the legs and difficulty coordinating the movements necessary to walk.
  • The appearance of strange eye movements which gives it a bad appearance: nystagmus, double vision, etc.
  • A state of confusion or apathy appears which cannot be explained other than by neurological lesions.

Symptoms of Korsakoff syndrome they have more to do with memory, and they are:

  • anterograde amnesiaIn other words, the inability to form new memories from the moment the syndrome appears. Almost everything you experience is forgotten in the short time you have been living.
  • retrograde amnesiaIn other words, inability or serious difficulty remembering certain important episodes from the past.
  • FabulationIn other words, an invention of history to “fill” these gaps which one does not remember, generally unconsciously.

The causes of this syndrome

Vitamin B1 deficiency linked to Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome it is often associated with the excessive consumption of alcoholic beveragesBut it can also be due to a failure to absorb nutrients from what is ingested.

While Wernicke’s encephalopathy causes damage to the thalamus and hypothalamus (the two main structures in an area of ​​the brain called the diencephalon), Korsakoff syndrome is caused by damage to areas more related to memory. .

Treatment of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome

Currently, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome has no cure, so its treatment is aimed at not worsening the symptomatic picture, and its effects can be controlled as much as possible to minimize a person’s quality of life.

Treatments, which must always be directed by a specialist, they usually treat the syndrome by preventing continued alcohol use, Improve a person’s eating habits, individual or group psychological care and vitamin B1 injection.

The symptoms that can most easily go away are those related to motor coordination and eye movements, but those related to cognitive abilities usually do not improve and, if not treated properly, can get worse in the body. coma and death.

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