Acute Wernicke's Encephalopathy following Bariatric Surgery: Clinical Course and MRI Correlation
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Postoperative complications and nutritional deficits resulting from bariatric surgery can lead to severe vitamin-deficiency states, such as Wernicke's encephalopathy (WE). Patients with acute WE generally present with the classic clinical triad of inattentiveness, ataxia, and ophthalmoplegia. We describe a patient who presented with acute WE at 2 months after laparoscopic bariatric surgery. Initial MRI of the brain demonstrated the characteristic injuries of WE, and repeat imaging showed resolution after 4 months of thiamine supplementation, at which time the patient had normal gait but persistent memory deficits. Even with early recognition and aggressive therapy, acute WE commonly results in permanent disability due to the irreversible cytotoxic effects on specific regions of the brain. Since the clinical onset of acute WE follows a predictable time-course in postbariatric surgery patients with malnutrition, we recommend prevention by administration of parenteral thiamine beginning at 6 weeks postoperatively in malnourished patients.
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