Is Wernicke's Encephalopathy Reversible?
If the disease is caught soon enough, yes, Wernicke’s encephalopathy is reversible, but it is too often not diagnosed or treated in time for the affected person to experience the benefits of treatment.
Wernicke’s encephalopathy is the acute phase of the far more damaging Wernicke’s Korsakoff syndrome. When Wernicke’s encephalopathy is caught in time, much of the damage caused by the disease can indeed be reversed, but once it develops into Korsakoff, it is much more difficult to treat. It is vital that doctors treat patients they suspect have Wernicke’s Korsakoff syndrome to reduce the risk of neurological problems and death associated with the rapidly developing disease.
This beginning stage of the disease is characterized by ataxia, which is the loss of muscle control (especially when walking) as well as visual and eye disturbances (ophthalmoplegia). The most common symptom is mental disturbance including a foggy-headed feeling, trouble remembering and confabulation (story telling).
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Wernicke's ATAXIA AND NEUROLOGICAL SYMPTOMS
The visual disturbances associated with Wernicke’s encephalopathy are often the first symptoms to be noticed and are one of the first signs a physician will note. There will likely be paralysis of muscles in the eye, drooping eyelids, and double vision.
A person experiencing ataxia will not be able to keep themselves balanced and will walk with a slow and unsteady gait.
The mental disturbances brought on by Wernicke’s encephalopathy will include confusion, disorientation, memory loss and unresponsiveness. Apathy, lethargy, and excessive sleepiness are also to be expected.
As the disease progresses, it can do severe damage to the brain, resulting in irreversible neurological disorders and even death. Rapid treatment is the only hope for reversing the disease. It is likely that a person who has been afflicted by this disease will be hospitalized so that they can be kept under observation during treatment.
The first step in treatment is ensuring that nutrients are properly absorbed in the digestive system. In patients with Wernicke’s Korsakoff syndrome, there is often acute malnutrition because the digestive system is unable to absorb key nutrients properly. Therefore, these nutrients must be reintroduced into the body.
Wernicke’s encephalopathy is caused by the body not getting the thiamine (vitamin B1) it needs. Sometimes this is administered by mouth, but most often it is given through an intravenous line (IV). This is because the body is likely not absorbing the thiamine through the digestive system, so it must be injected directly into the patient’s blood.
If the signs of Wernicke’s encephalopathy are caught early enough, patients with the disease often respond quite well to treatment.
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early TREATMENT of wernicke-KORSAKOFF DISEASE can reverse symptoms
When the thiamine levels are restored, people afflicted with Wernicke’s encephalopathy will find that the disturbances in their vision begin to improve within days or weeks. Muscle control will likely gradually increase as the levels of thiamine are built up as well. The confusion and impaired mental state experienced by those with Wernicke’s encephalopathy takes a bit longer to improve, however. Through treatment ensuring proper thiamine levels, patients experiencing confusion can expect to see results in a few months.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Often, Wernicke’s encephalopathy is misdiagnosed resulting in delayed treatment. Too many patients experience permanent memory loss, and if the disease is allowed to progress and becomes Wernicke’s Korsakoff syndrome, there is little that can be done for reversal of the disease.
Quick and proper treatment is vital if there is hope of reversing Wernicke’s encephalopathy.
If you or a loved one have experienced a negative situation due to a misdiagnosis, or if you have questions regarding your specific case, feel free to call us today.
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