Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome medical therapy

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Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome Microchapters


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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]; Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief: Cafer Zorkun, M.D., Ph.D. [2]; Aditya Govindavarjhulla, M.B.B.S. [3]


Treatment consists of reversing the thiamine deficiency by giving supplemental thiamine, usually by starting with an initial intravenous or intramuscular dose followed by supplemental oral doses. It is important to start the thiamine treatment before giving any glucose as the encephalopathy will be worsened by the glucose. (Glucose administration promotes dehydrogenation of pyruvate, a biochemical reaction which consumes thiamine.) By the time amnesia and psychosis have occurred, complete recovery is unlikely.

Medical Therapy

The goals of treatment are to control symptoms as much as possible and to prevent the disorder from getting worse. Some people may need to stay in the hospital early in the condition to help control symptoms.

Monitoring and special care may be needed if the person is:

Thiamine may be given by injection into a vein or a muscle, or by mouth. It may improve symptoms of:

  • Confusion or delirium
  • Difficulties with vision and eye movement
  • Lack of muscle coordination

Thiamine usually does not improve loss of memory and intellect that occur with Korsakoff psychosis.

Stopping alcohol use can prevent additional loss of brain function and damage to nerves. Eating a well-balanced, nourishing diet can help, but it is not a substitute for stopping alcohol use.


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