Bariatric Surgery and Wernicke’s Encephalopathy
Weight Loss Surgery and Thiamine Deficiency
Bariatric Surgery Patients are at Serious Risk for Wernicke’s Encephalopathy – Korsakoff Syndrome
Most people cannot wait for the results of their bariatric surgery, but a number of them are not prepared for the memory loss and neurological problems that can arise afterward.
While this disease is prevalent in people with alcoholism and well as people who are chronically malnourished, it was only recently discovered that patients who have undergone bariatric surgery are at risk of developing Wernicke’s encephalopathy as well.
Wernicke’s encephalopathy is a disorder that stems from a severe thiamine deficiency. This lack of thiamine can result in a marked change in the mental status of a person, which presents as disorientation and confusion, apathy, and extreme sleepiness. Other symptoms of Wernicke’s encephalopathy are abnormalities in the eyes as well as the loss of motor skills and balance.
When left untreated, Wernicke’s encephalopathy can develop into a much more dangerous complication known as Korsakoff syndrome. Together these two disorders create Wernicke’s Korsakoff syndrome. This results in a neurological environment that is dangerous to a person’s health, as well as their life. A Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome misdiagnosis by a medical professional is almost ALWAYS due to medical negligence.
Signs And Symptoms Of Wernicke’s Encephalopathy
The dangerously low levels of thiamine in Wernicke’s Korsakoff syndrome can cause many symptoms such as:
- Ataxia (difficulty walking and balancing)
- Behavioral changes
- Inability to focus or concentrate
- Changes in vision (especially double vision)
- Paralysis of the eye muscles
- Short-term memory loss
In extreme cases, people with the disease can experience things like:
- Loss of consciousness
These symptoms are all brought on by the lesions that are formed on the affected person’s brain because of their thiamine deficiency.
Because the disease is commonly associated with alcoholism and malnutrition, it is often not even on a physician’s radar when a patient presents with symptoms that would otherwise point to Wernicke’s encephalopathy or Korsakoff syndrome. It is highly under-recognized in patients who have undergone bariatric surgery, but doctors are beginning to realize that it is happening.
Unfortunately, not everyone will present with the same signs and symptoms of the disorder. Around only 20% of patients who have Wernicke’s encephalopathy or Korsakoff syndrome will present with all three of the most common symptoms – ataxia, confusion, and eye abnormalities. This can make it difficult to diagnose the disease correctly.
A missed diagnosis allows the disease to progress which can result in irreversible damage to the brain and neurological systems and may even result in a person’s loss of life.
Early Diagnosis Of Wernicke’s Can Reverse Symptoms
Thankfully, if the disease is caught in the early stages, much of the damage can be reversed with proper treatment. Through administering thiamine supplementation, the afflicted person can regain much of what has been lost in terms of muscle control and eye movement, though some people will retain some neurological problems.
Once Korsakoff syndrome has fully set in, much of the neurological damage is irreversible though. The afflicted patient will likely have some permanent memory loss as well as other disorders such as neuropathy.
Surgeons and other healthcare workers need to be more aware of the risk of Wernicke’s encephalopathy as well as Korsakoff syndrome in patients that have gone through bariatric surgeries. Patients need to be made aware of the factors leading to the development of this disease and need to know to report any symptoms to their doctor immediately.
If you or a loved one has experienced Wernicke’s encephalopathy or Korsakoff syndrome, call us today, and we can help you determine your options.