Korsakoff's Syndrome

Definition

Korsakoff's syndrome is a group of symptoms that affect memory, usually in patients with alcoholism. It often occurs following Wernicke encephalopathy .

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Causes

Korsakoff syndrome is caused by a lack of vitamin B1 , also known as thiamine. This is also always associated with alcoholism, since a poor diet and alcohol can prevent the body from getting enough thiamine.

Not everyone with alcoholism develops Korsakoff syndrome. A combination of genes and diet may play a role.

Risk Factors

Factors that increase your chance of developing Korsakoff's syndrome include:

  • Alcohol abuse
  • Malnutrition

Symptoms

Symptoms of Korsakoff syndrome may include:

  • Confusion
  • Memory problems
  • Learning difficulty
  • Communication problems
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty with walking and balance

The main symptom of Korsakoff's syndrome is severe memory problems. It is most obvious with recent events and new information. Often, people with this condition do not know the date or day. However, long-term memory and overall intelligence are not usually affected. To fill in the gaps in recent memory, patients tend to make up information that fits with the situation. This is called confabulation.

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. Your mental function will be assessed. Testing your ability to learn new information most likely will show if you have this condition. If you are an alcoholic and/or have had Wernicke's syndrome, Korsakoff's syndrome is seriously considered as the cause of your memory problem.

Treatment

Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Options include:

Rehabilitation

You may be referred to an alcohol rehabilitation facility if alcoholism is the cause of your condition.

Thiamine Supplements

You will be given thiamine to treat the thiamine deficiency.

Dietary Changes

You will need to drink plenty of fluids. You may also be referred to a dietitian to help with meal planning, especially if your diet is high in carbohydrates.

Prevention

Korsakoff syndrome often occurs following Wernicke encephalopathy. To reduce your risk:

  • Ensure that you are getting enough thiamine in your diet. This is 1.1 mg a day for women and 1.2 mg a day for men. Foods that are rich in thiamine include lentils, peas, fortified breakfast cereal, pecans, spinach, oranges, milk, and eggs.
  • Do not drink alcohol or only drink in moderation.
  • If you have a drinking problem, talk to your doctor right away about treatment options.

Revisions

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This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

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