Wernicke’s Encephalopathy and Medical Malpractice

A brain disorder that can be caused due to vitamin deficiency, Wernicke’s Encephalopathy can have a devastating impact on your health. It is important for a doctor to diagnose Wernicke’s disease in its early stages; failing to do so can have long-lasting implications on one’s health and could lead to permanent brain damage. 

What are Wernicke’s Encephalopathy and Korsakoff Syndrome?

Wernicke’s Encephalopathy is the name given to a degenerative brain disorder that can take place due to the deficiency of vitamin B1. Wernicke’s can affect the brain’s lower parts, leading to abnormalities in eye movement, confusion, and voluntary movement. Most commonly, the lower part of the brain bleeds due to the disease and can cause lesions. 


Judge Dan Hinde

Korsakoff Syndrome is a brain disorder that specifically targets the part of the brain responsible for memory. The syndrome also sees varying degrees of damage to the nerve cells located in the spinal cord and brain.

Difference between Wernicke’s vs. Korsakoff Syndrome

Wernicke’s Encephalopathy and Korsakoff syndrome is the name given to the same brain disease at different stages. The initial diagnosis of brain disorder affecting parts of the lower brain is known as Wernicke’s Encephalopathy. However, as a patient’s condition deteriorates, symptoms of Korsakoff syndrome start to show. Permanent damage to the parts of the brain that involve memory is seen due to Korsakoff syndrome. 

How is Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome Diagnosed?

Knowing the right way to diagnose Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome can be crucial for effective treatment. Doctors use a physical examination to diagnose the syndrome. This includes information about yourself, responsiveness in your eyes, and checking vital signs. In the case that the doctor is not satisfied, they may also ask for a blood test to analyze thiamine levels. 



What Are The Clinical Signs of Wernicke’s Encephalopathy? 

There are multiple clinical signs of Wernicke’s Encephalopathy, the triad of symptoms. As you read, you will learn more about these symptoms and the stages of the disease. 

The “Triad” of Symptoms

Neurological disease can be observed through any of the three symptoms. In the case of more than one symptom, the chances of having Wernicke’s increase exponentially. The first indication of the disease is a confused mental state. This is quickly followed by the loss of coordination in muscles, leading to the patient being unable to stand up or walk independently. And the last symptom of thiamine deficiency involves drooping the upper eyelid or abnormal eye movements.  

Stages of the Disease

Wernicke’s Encephalopathy is a neurological issue that starts by affecting the lower parts of the brain. This can be categorized as the initial stage of the disease. Failure to diagnose and treat Wernicke’s disease in its early stages can aggravate the disease. Wernicke’s can develop into Korsakoff Syndrome, the next stage of the disease. Korsakoff disease involves permanent damage to memory. 

Can Medical Malpractice cause Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome?

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome could be caused by medical malpractice, especially if the patient was in medical care. The failure to diagnose the syndrome or check thiamine levels while under observation is medical malpractice. Any of the reasons mentioned below has room for negligence by the care staff, which is medical malpractice. 

Vomiting or Bulimia

Continuous vomiting reduces the concentration of thiamine in the body. Being ill induces intense vomiting, due to which a patient’s diet cannot replace the levels of thiamine. This can lead to the development of the syndrome.   

Bariatric Weight Loss Surgery

Post weigh loss surgery makes it hard for the body to absorb thiamine from the diet. The diet by the doctor is already controlled. In addition, the part of the intestine which absorbs thiamine is bypassed. This results in reduced levels of thiamine in the body. 

Long Hospitalization on IV

Receiving the daily requirement of thiamine reduces by 6x times through an IV. With improper care in a hospital, the risk of thiamine deficiency increases exponentially. 

Malnutrition After Surgery

Lack of attentiveness by doctors can cause thiamine levels to drop after surgery. The evaluation of a patient suffering from any symptoms must be done instantly. 


This is not a medical negligence case, as alcohol use is voluntary. The intake of alcohol flushes out thiamine from the liver, creating a high possibility of deficiency. 

Who is Most at Risk of Developing Wernicke’s Korsakoff Syndrome?

Recent data suggest that men between the ages of 30-70 are more likely to develop Wernicke’s Korsakoff Syndrome. In cases related to alcohol consumption, the data suggest that men above the age of 40 are more likely to be diagnosed with the syndrome. People undergoing gastric bypass surgery or extended hospitalization can also contract WKS due to doctor negligence. 

Wernicke’s is Often Misdiagnosed

The early symptoms of Wernicke’s are often misdiagnosed. This is due to the lack of attention from doctors, as the symptoms are similar to other conditions and disorders. 

Misdiagnosed as Psychiatric Disorder

One of the major indicators of Wernicke’s is confusion and emotional responses due to chemical imbalance. The same symptoms can also be highlighted for a psychiatric disorder, which can lead to misdiagnosis. This can be counted as medical malpractice, leading to harm which could have been avoided. In the case a doctor notices a similar symptom, they must pinpoint the exact cause of those symptoms. 

Misdiagnosed Thiamine Deficiency Can Have Life-Threatening Results

Misdiagnosing a neurological disease can permanently affect a patient’s life. Thiamine deficiency can force a patient into a coma in extreme cases. At the same time, it can also cause lesions on the lower part of the brain due to bleeding. Misdiagnosing thiamine deficiency can also lead to a loss of memory. 

The syndrome can also cause delirium and hallucinations, which can have long-lasting impacts on the patient. Medical malpractice can cause a patient to lose the best years of their life and life the rest in treatments and confusion. 

If You or a Loved One Was Misdiagnosed, Seek Legal Help Now

There can be nothing worse than being confused for the better part of your life, especially when the cause is a doctor’s negligence. You must assess your options if you believe that a doctor may be liable for your or your loved one’s condition. 

Consult with a team of experienced medical malpractice attorneys who have previously dealt with Wernicke’s cases. You can rest assured that the Snapka Law Firm will work day and night to get you the justice you deserve. Contact our attorneys today to review your claim for free.

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