Wernicke’s Korsakoff Syndrome Lawyer | Wernicke's Encephalopathy
Have you or a loved one suffered from Wernicke’s Encephalopathy or Korsakoff Syndrome due to a misdiagnosis or medical negligence? The attorneys at The Snapka Law Firm have three decades of experience fighting for the rights of medical malpractice victims. Our firm recently secured a verdict in excess of $14,000,000 for a client who, after a routine bariatric surgery, suffered severe neurological impairment as a result of Wernicke’s. If you or a family member were injured due to negligence resulting in Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, please call our firm today for a free and confidential case review.
Do You Have a Wernicke’s Korsakoff Lawsuit?
Wernicke’s encephalopathy can impact anyone if certain symptoms exist and are not properly and immediately treated. The consequences of such negligence are often devastating, not only for the affected individual that suffers injury, but for loved ones as well. The mental, physical, and financial strains of caring for a family member with severe neurological issues is a tremendous burden. If a medical professional or facility was at fault you and your family deserve compensation enough to:
Is Wernicke-korsakoff syndrome Preventable?
Wernicke-Korsakoff and Wernicke’s Encephalopathy are 100% preventable and their symptoms should be diagnosed by medical professionals long before they cause permanent damage. The disease is typically reversible in the early stages; however, when early signs go undiagnosed by a healthcare professional it can progress and cause permanent brain damage. In such situations, medical professionals and facilities may be held liable for damages in a medical negligence lawsuit.
You or a Loved One Diagnosed with Wernicke's Due to Medical Negligence?
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What is korsakoff Syndrome?
Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is a brain disorder that consists of two related diseases: Wernicke's disease and Korsakoff syndrome. Both diseases are caused by a chronic vitamin B-1 deficiency that is left untreated. (Vitamin B1 is also known as Thiamine.) Korsakoff syndrome typically follows Wernicke’s and is considered a more advanced stage of Thiamine deficiency
Symptoms of Wernicke's Encephalopathy
The symptoms of Wernicke’s will vary from person to person but most commonly affect major nerve functions including sight, balance, and ability to focus. Victims often become confused and unable to see or walk properly.
Common symptoms of Wernicke's Encephalopathy may include:
Wernicke's Encephalopathy Treatment
Wernicke Syndrome is a serious disease which can lead to serious neurological problems, coma, and even death if not treated. Medical professionals should be alerted by any symptoms of Wernicke’s in susceptible patients, especially those with decreased food intake or altered nutrition. The presence of one or more symptoms is sufficient cause to test for the disease.
The treatment options for Wernicke’s are simple, effective, and can stop the progression of the disease, even reversing symptoms, if diagnosed early enough. A simple blood test can be taken to determine levels of Thiamine and related minerals. If Thiamine levels are low, patients are given intravenous supplements until symptoms are completely recovered. Often, the patient will not need repeat or long-term treatment.
What is Encephalopathy?
Encephalopathy is a broad medical term that describes any disease that affects the functioning of the brain. Encephalopathy can be permanent, or temporary. It can be caused by a range of circumstances including viral infections or hereditary conditions. Encephalopathy can also be the result of a deficiency, including a deficiency in Vitamin B1.
Wernicke’s encephalopathy refers to encephalopathy caused by a deficiency in vitamin B1, or thiamine. Wernicke syndrome and Wernicke’s encephalopathy are one and the same disease, it is just a slightly different way of describing Wernicke’s.
What is Korsakoff Syndrome?
Wernicke syndrome and Korsakoff syndrome often occur in tandem. An individual is first affected by Wernicke’s and then progresses to contract Korsakoff syndrome. Both are diseases of the brain caused by a deficiency in thiamine.
Korsakoff syndrome is recognized by specific symptoms that are different from the symptoms of Wernicke syndrome. Korsakoff syndrome is mainly marked by memory loss, both the ability to form new memories and the ability to access long-term memory. Confabulation is also a common symptom of Korsakoff syndrome with individuals making up facts and stories that are not based in reality.
What is Beriberi?
Vitamin B1 deficiency can lead to more than just brain disorders. At an advanced stage, a deficiency in thiamine can lead to Beriberi, a disease that affects the circulatory system and the heart. There are two types: dry Beriberi and wet Beriberi.
Dry Beriberi symptoms include being short of breath, a rapid heart rate and lower legs that are swollen. Wet Beriberi exhibits several symptoms with patients often experiencing weakened muscles, a tingling feeling in the hands and feet, vomiting, paralysis and involuntary eye movement.
Failure to Diagnose Thiamine (Vitamin B-1) Deficiency and Medical Malpractice
No patient should EVER develop Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome while in a hospital or under the care of a medical professional. When you understand how Wernicke’s develops, the time involved, and how simple it is to prevent, it becomes clear that delayed or misdiagnosis of the disease is a matter of negligence.
What is Thiamine?
Thiamine, also known as vitamin B1, is an essential chemical compound that the body needs to function on a daily basis. It is an important vitamin: the body uses thiamine to manufacture adenosine triphosphate, a molecule that facilitates the transport of energy from cell to cell.
The body cannot produce thiamine on its own, but most people obtain an adequate supply of thiamine through their food. Foods that contain thiamine include pork, nuts, peas, grain cereals and rice. Essentially, most ordinary diets will supply all the thiamine required for bodily function. However, for various reasons persons sometimes are unable to maintain a normal diet.
How is Thiamine Deficiency Diagnosed?
A thiamine deficiency is the result of an inadequate intake of thiamine. It is possible to suffer from low Thiamine levels due to a very poor diet, not eating enough, prolonged vomiting, or as a result of long-term hospitalization.
Deficiency in thiamine can be diagnosed in several ways. First, a physician can look at the symptoms that a patient is experiencing which can lead to a suspicion of thiamine deficiency. A definitive diagnosis is made by measuring the levels of thiamine in whole blood.
When is Misdiagnosis Medical Malpractice?
For a variety of reasons, physicians can miss thiamine deficiency in a patient. The symptoms of thiamine deficiency and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome are not unique to that condition. That said, the medical history of a patient will quickly bring thiamine deficiency symptoms into perspective and should be cause for correct diagnosis. Healthcare providers should know the symptoms and combinations of risk factors that could indicate Thiamine deficiency.
Nonetheless, thiamine deficiency can go undiagnosed and, the missed diagnosis may be considered medical malpractice.
Standards of Care
Medical professionals are expected to maintain a specific standard of care for all patients. These medical standards require strict procedures that ensure that vital patient information is communicated as necessary.
Information sharing is an important aspect of care standards. In the case of Thiamine deficiency, practitioners should insist on getting full insight into a patient’s medical history before diagnosis, treatment, and patient release.
Even if a patient’s full medical and treatment history is available, physicians can still miss crucial facts that could have led to an early, harm-reducing diagnosis of thiamine deficiency. Fatigue, a lack of communication/documentation, and oversight can all cause a delayed diagnosis. Any one of these reasons may be cause for a medical malpractice lawsuit.
Failure to Treat
Failure to properly treat symptoms is another potential cause for negligence claims. In the case of Wernicke’s disease, a failure to treat the underlying Thiamine deficiency can have life-long consequences to the patient such as serious physical and mental health disorders, and even death.
If You or a Loved One Developed Wernicke's While Under Medical Care, You Have a CASE!
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Top Causes of Wernicke Syndrome and Thiamine Deficiency
The thiamine deficiency that leads to Wernicke syndrome can have many different causes. A number of these causes are directly related to a patient’s health and the clinical setting. The most common causes of thiamine deficiency include:
Prolonged Periods of Vomiting and Nausea
Many conditions can induce prolonged periods of vomiting and nausea which lead to malnutrition. This is because the body does not have sufficient opportunity to absorb nutrients, with an effect on vitamin B1 levels. As explained earlier, thiamine must be absorbed through the diet, it cannot be produced by the body. Poor absorption due to persistent vomiting may, therefore, lead to thiamine deficiency. Over time a patient can develop Wernicke syndrome due to this thiamine deficiency.
Bariatric (Weight Loss) Surgery
Bariatric surgery is a procedure that divides the stomach into two compartments, with one compartment subsequently disconnected. The procedure reduces the size of the stomach to encourage reduced food consumption.
However, bariatric surgery can lead to complications as some parts of the stomach that are removed are better at absorbing thiamine, reducing thiamine levels in the body. Bariatric surgery can also reduce food intake so much that a thiamine deficiency develops in the patient. The resulting thiamine deficiency can lead to the patient developing Wernicke’s.
Seriously ill patients that stay in a hospital for a major illness may be fed intravenously (IV) for an extended period of time. Patients that receive most of their food intake via IV can develop low levels of crucial vitamins, including vitamin B1. Patients may also lose their appetite while hospitalized resulting in vitamin deficiencies. If a patient is not monitored for a thiamine deficiency, and one develops, then symptoms of Wernicke syndrome may become present in the patient.
Post Surgery Malnutrition
Surgery can have a very big impact on a patient’s health, and malnutrition after surgery can be a complication. Depending on the treatment performed a patient may struggle to eat normally for an extended period of time. As a result, patients can become undernourished, leading to a lack of thiamine intake and in turn development of Wernicke’s disease.
Alcoholism and Liver Disorders
Excessive alcohol consumption affects the liver and gastrointestinal tract, including the way in which nutrients are absorbed. Even if an individual eats a sufficient diet, if the body cannot absorb nutrients properly then deficiencies can develop – including a thiamine deficiency.
Alcohol abuse is, therefore, a leading cause of vitamin B1 deficiency and by consequence a leading cause of Wernicke’s syndrome. Patients who abuse alcohol and present with neurological symptoms should always be evaluated for Wernicke Syndrome.
People Most at Risk for Wernicke's and Beriberi
Beriberi and Wernicke’s are not common diseases but neither of their symptoms are difficult to recognize. Certain people are at higher risk of Wernicke’s syndrome and Beriberi and it is crucial that at-risk patients be monitored for symptoms to ensure early diagnosis.
Many women experience severe nausea when they are pregnant. Severe nausea and frequent vomiting can cause malnutrition as the body does not get the opportunity to absorb nutrients from foods.
The condition is known as hyperemesis gravidarum and up to 3% of pregnant women suffer from it. In addition to dehydration, the condition can also lead to a deficiency in important compounds including vitamins such as vitamin B1, or thiamine.
In the worst cases, where hyperemesis gravidarum leads to severe thiamine deficiency, it can lead to Wernicke’s syndrome. That is why it is essential for doctors to closely monitor pregnant patients who suffer from severe nausea. A test for vitamin B1 deficiency can be essential to prevent serious, irreversible problems from developing in pregnant women.
Bariatric Surgery Patients
Wernicke’s can be one of the complications of bariatric surgery, but it is entirely preventable if at-risk patients are adequately monitored. Physicians should know that bariatric surgery patients are at high risk of the thiamine deficiency that leads to Wernicke’s because a such a large portion of the stomach is removed.
Consequently, physicians should monitor patients to ensure that key nutrients are present in adequate quantities. Any vitamin B1 deficiency that develops can be quickly cured by consuming vitamin B1 supplements orally, or in severe cases, through IV administration. Wernicke syndrome is entirely avoidable if thiamine deficiency is diagnosed in time.
Wernicke-Korsakoff is 100% Preventable if Standards of Care are Followed
Certain patients are at a higher risk of developing Wernicke-Korsakoff. The applicable standards of care for these patients will include the steps necessary to avoid or at least detect thiamine deficiency before it leads to irreversible problems.
Thiamine deficiency does not immediately trigger serious health consequences, it takes a period of time before the human body starts to suffer from a low level of vitamin B1. This time window provides ample opportunity for physicians to detect low thiamine levels and to supply patients with vitamin B1 supplements. A simple, daily oral supplement will maintain the proper reserves of Vitamin B1 in the body.
Developing a Thiamine Deficiency While Under Medical Care IS Negligence!
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Can Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome and Wernicke’s Encephalopathy Be Treated?
Acute Wernicke encephalopathy can be reversed if high doses of thiamine is rapidly administered to a patient. Introducing vitamin B1 into the body can stop the process that causes the symptoms of acute Wernicke encephalopathy before more permanent damage is done. The key to successful treatment is early detection and action.
Once a patient has started to develop Korsakoff syndrome physicians have limited options to repair the damage; however, restoring adequate thiamine levels would be the first step. Patients may see some relief from symptoms, but the neurological damage is unlikely to be reversible.
What is Wernicke’s (Receptive) Aphasia?
Aphasia refers to language impairment, where a person has difficulty understanding languages or speaking. Aphasia can also affect the ability to read and write. There are a number of medical conditions that cause Aphasia and Wernicke’s is one.
Patients suffering from Wernicke’s Aphasia are prone to struggle with the meaning of spoken words and may find it difficult to comprehend sentences. Along with difficulties in understanding speech, patients who suffer from Wernicke’s aphasia can also have difficulty with reading and writing.
A patient with Wernicke’s aphasia may be unaware that what they are saying does not make sense. The condition is caused by damage to the left posterior area of the brain which may have resulted from insufficient Thiamine.
Legal Help for Sufferers of a Thiamine Deficiency misdiagnosis injury
Medical conditions can develop despite the best efforts of doctors and staff and not all medical injuries are considered malpractice. However, when a negative outcome could have been avoided under typical standards of care, negligence may be involved. Under these circumstances, the patient or immediate family may have cause to sue doctors, medical staff and medical facilities for malpractice.
Medical Malpractice and Wernicke’s Syndrome
It should be clear by now that Wernicke’s is largely a preventable condition. Vitamin B1 deficiency can be tested for and is easily treated. Treating thiamine deficiency eliminates the opportunity for Wernicke’s to develop or to progress to Korsakoff Syndrome. Even if early symptoms appear, Wernicke’s can be reversed with quick treatment.
However, medical negligence can and does happen. Doctors that fail to test bariatric surgery patients for thiamine deficiency will miss the opportunity to spot a lack of Vitamin B1. Left untreated the patient will suffer severe consequences. A similar case can be built against physicians that do not confirm that a pregnant woman suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum is, in fact, absorbing the required nutrients.
The Impact of Medical Malpractice
Not following through on standards of care leaves patients exposed to diseases that can be debilitating and life-threatening. Untreated thiamine deficiency can leave a person with severely compromised mental faculties, unable to work and unable to take care of themselves or their family.
The financial implications for the injured and their family are enormous. With no income, those who suffer from Wernicke’s are reliant upon family for support and family’s may lose their primary income earner. Even where family members are able to care for the inflicted, the mental, physical and financial burden is often life-changing.
While nothing can replace the health of the injured, a successful malpractice lawsuit can provide a restitution. Funds awarded through a settlement or verdict can be used to provide care for the injured, cover medical costs, and help support the family members.
Seeking Legal Help for Wernicke's Related Medical Negligence
Medical malpractice law is daunting and incredibly complex. Capable medical malpractice lawyers must be aware of the latest medical advances and the current standards of care. Your medical malpractice lawyer must also understand where the line lies between medical outcomes that could not be prevented, and malpractice.
The Snapka Law Firm is here to help you understand your legal options and advise on the avenues available to you and your loved ones. Having handled previous cases involving Wernicke’s, we possess a unique expertise not offered by other law firms. This combined with our extensive experience in evaluating and pursuing medical malpractice cases makes us one of the most qualified firms to handle your Wernicke-Korsakoff lawsuit. Contact us today for a free, no obligation consultation.
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