Wet Brain or Wernicke-Korsakoff: What Are the Signs and Symptoms?

Each part of our body needs thiamine to function properly; without it, there is a good chance of dysfunction. When our brain does not get enough thiamine, it cannot convert the sugar into energy for our bodily functions. Besides, our brain has certain enzymes, including many neurotransmitters, that cannot rightly function without thiamine. When someone cannot get thiamine for a long time, they will develop brain damage, known as wet brain syndrome. The answer to this question depends on how far the condition has progressed. The first stage of wet brain, Wernicke encephalopathy, is an acute condition.

Addressing the root cause of WKS – alcoholism – is crucial for preventing further damage to the brain and improving overall health outcomes for individuals with this medical condition. This is typically followed by outpatient counseling sessions, support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, and in some cases sober living. If a person is exhibiting signs of wet brain, they will need to be treated for nutritional deficiencies in a hospital. IV injections of B vitamins and magnesium can help reverse the symptoms of wet brain. Patients may also need to stay in the hospital for a period of time, so medical professionals can adequately monitor their condition and prevent adverse health problems from alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

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Alcohol use also blocks the enzyme that converts thiamine into a useful and active state. This usually involves a stay in a treatment facility where you will receive around-the-clock care and support. This can be an effective way to do an alcohol detox and get started on the road to recovery.

  • While thiamine deficiency can happen to people with poor diets, it is more common in those who drink heavily over the course of many years.
  • There are two forms of wet brain syndrome called Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff psychosis.

They may also notice problems in their central nervous system and extremities, like hands and feet. If caught and treated early, many symptoms of Wernicke encephalopathy are reversible. If patients progress to Korsakoff psychosis, it is more challenging to reverse symptoms, particularly memory impairment. Wernicke said encephalopathy can be treated with thiamine tablets or injections, IV fluids and nutritional support. It is critical that thiamine replacement is initiated before nutritional replenishment. Patients should also be treated for their underlying AUD so that they can initiate and maintain abstinence from alcohol.

Talk briefly about the treatment and progression of the disorder.

Thiamine is incredibly important for many bodily systems and tissues to function properly. There are numerous enzymes in the brain that need thiamine to function, including many important neurotransmitters. When the brain is unable to get the correct amount of thiamine over a long period of time, it experiences damage. Vitamin B1 deficiencies are rare occurrences in the US, except in people who regularly abuse alcohol or who have a serious autoimmune disorder such as HIV or AIDS. The main function of these pathways is the generation
of a molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which provides energy for
numerous cellular processes and reactions.

  • There’s no single test for the syndrome, but a good indication, particularly when disorientation and confusion are apparent, is testing vitamin B1 levels in the blood.
  • Because heavy alcohol abuse is a key cause of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, to recover and prevent the disorder from worsening, it is important to stop heavy alcohol use.
  • Patients may also need to stay in the hospital for a period of time, so medical professionals can adequately monitor their condition and prevent adverse health problems from alcohol withdrawal syndrome.
  • Symptoms can vary depending on the stage and progression of the disorder.

ThDP then binds to the thiamine–using
enzymes, a reaction that requires the presence of magnesium. In this case, any thiamine that reaches the cells cannot
be used effectively, exacerbating any concurrently existing thiamine deficiency. Approximately 80 to 90 percent
of alcoholics with WE develop Korsakoff’s psychosis, a chronic neuropsychiatric
syndrome characterized by behavioral abnormalities and memory impairments (Victor
et al. 1989). Although these sober house patients have problems remembering old information
(i.e., retrograde amnesia), it is the disturbance in acquisition of new information
(i.e., anterograde amnesia) that is most striking. For example, these patients
can engage in a detailed discussion of events in their lives but cannot remember
ever having had that conversation an hour later. Because of these characteristic
memory deficits, Korsakoff’s psychosis also is called alcohol amnestic

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