, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp 181-194
Date: 11 May 2012

Wernicke’s Encephalopathy: Expanding the Diagnostic Toolbox

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Wernicke’s encephalopathy (WE) is a life threatening neurological disorder that results from thiamine (Vitamin B1) deficiency. Clinical signs include mental status changes, ataxia, occulomotor changes and nutritional deficiency. The conundrum is that the clinical presentation is highly variable. WE clinical signs, brain imaging, and thiamine blood levels, are reviewed in 53 published case reports from 2001 to 2011; 81 % (43/53) were non-alcohol related. Korsakoff Syndrome or long-term cognitive neurological changes occurred in 28 % (15/53). Seven WE cases (13 %) had a normal magnetic resonance image (MRI). Four WE cases (8 %) had normal or high thiamine blood levels. Neither diagnostic tool can be relied upon exclusively to confirm a diagnosis of WE.