Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome Lawyer

Misdiagnosis of Vitamin B1 Deficiency (Thiamine)

doctor with patient

Early diagnosis of Vitamin B-1 deficiency is critical.

Do you or a family member suffer from Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS)? Otherwise called Wernicke Syndrome or Korsakoff Syndrome? This disease can cause death and/or permanent brain damage when doctors and medical personnel misdiagnose patients with Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. When a patient with Wernicke-Korsakoff disease dies or suffers permanent brain damage, it is a direct result of a doctor’s failure to timely diagnose a vitamin B1 (Thiamine) deficiency. You may qualify to file a claim seeking compensation for negligence, permanent brain damage, or wrongful death. We can help you, and consultations are free and confidential.

Call the law office of Simmons and Fletcher, P.C. at (713) 932-0777 for a free consultation with an attorney about filing a Wernicke Korsakoff Syndrome lawsuit. If doctors misdiagnosed or missed the signs of Wernicke’s Disease in the early stages before permanent brain damage occurred and the condition was reversible, they may be held liable for damages in a medical negligence lawsuit.

What is Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome?

Wernickie’s Disease and Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome are conditions that are a direct result of a vitamin B1 deficiency in the body.Wernicke Korsakoff Syndrome is also known as Wernicke’s Disease, Korsakoff’s Psychosis, Wernicke’s-Encephalopathy, or  Wernicke-Korsokoff Syndrome.  The human body does not produce vitamin B1. It must be consumed via diet or supplement.

The human body can hold in reserve enough thiamine to last approximately 2-3 weeks. Once it is gone, if not replenished, permanent and severe damage or even death may occur.  So, knowing that it is so important, how is it that it that medical doctors can misdiagnose and/or even fail to treat early warning signs of these conditions?

How Can Medical Negligence Cause Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome?

Doctors have a duty of care to patients. There are certain scenarios in which Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome is likely to occur, especially when the patient also has a vitamin B1 deficiency. When doctors misdiagnose patients that have a thiamine deficiency or fail to test patients undergoing bariatric surgery or that have extended incidents of vomiting in their medical records, they may be found negligent. Doctors should know to look out for symptoms and combinations of risk factors for Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome including:

  • Vomiting or Bulimia
  • Bariatric Weight Loss Surgery
  • Long Hospitalization on IV
  • Alcoholism
  • Malnutrition After Surgery

Origin 1: Prolonged Periods of Vomiting and Nausea

Whether it be a pregnant woman with severe morning sickness, a bulimic person or an otherwise ill patient, anyone experiencing a prolonged period of nausea and/or vomiting is at risk for not receiving sufficient Vitamin B1 in their diet to replace what is being burned and expelled. Thus, anyone with a history of nausea and vomiting should raise a red flag for being at risk.

OrigIn 2: Bariatric (Weight Loss) Surgery

gastric bypass illustrationBariatric Surgery is also known as Gastric Bypass Surgery and Laparoscopic Surgery. It is a procedure in which the stomach is surgically divided into two separate compartments and one the larger one is essentially disconnected to reduce the amount of food intake. That part of the stomach and some of the intestines, particularly the duodenum, are bypassed so that less food absorption occurs in the digestive process. This poses a thiamine deficiency risk in two ways:

  • the duodenum absorbs the most thiamine, and;
  • the diet for a bariatric surgery patient is restricted.

With thiamine intake being reduced in two ways, the risk of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome rises substantially. Some medical providers suggest a prolonged monitoring and regulation of the B1 levels following all weight loss surgery for this reason.

Origin 3: Extended Hospitalization

When someone is hospitalized for an extended period of time such that they receive their nourishment primarily or exclusively through an IV, they may receive as little as 1/6th of their normal recommended daily vitamin intake. Lack of appropriate vitamin supplementation can lead to a deficiency in Vitamin B1 and ultimately, Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome.  When you are in a hospital for an extended period of time and subject to feeding via IV, it is absolutely critical that your doctor monitor your food intake and blood vitamin levels to ensure you are receiving essential nutrients. Failure to do this can result in permanent and severe consequences.

Origin 4: Post Surgery Malnutrition

Any surgery can result in risk of vitamin B1 deficiency if proper vitamins are not administered when required. Any patient that appears to have undernourishment, dehydration and post-surgical nausea and vomiting should be evaluated and treated for a vitamin B1 deficiency.

Origin 5: Alcoholism and Liver Disorders

Alcoholism and liver disorders can result in a vitamin B1 deficiency leading to Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. Excessive use of alcohol can disrupt the natural intake of thiamine in the liver and gastrointestinal tract. Anyone with a history of alcohol that presents to the hospital with symptoms of Wernicke’s Encephalopathy and/or Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome should be evaluated and treated for B1 deficiency without delay.

Misdiagnosis of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

When it comes to Korsakoff disease, early diagnosis is a MUST! A Wernicke-Korsakoff misdiagnosis can be fatal. Anytime a patient arrives at an emergency room with more than one symptom of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, the patient should be immediately evaluated and treated for vitamin B1 deficiency because it is a medical emergency. Furthermore, a doctor may be negligent for failure to diagnose and treat a patient when he arrives at the hospital with any of the above origins in his history and a single symptom of  Wernicke’s Encephalopathy.

According to an article published by the National Institute of Health, “It is estimated that merely 20% of cases are diagnosed properly, whereas the majority are misdiagnosed.”

If you or a loved one were delayed in getting vitamin B1 treatment due to a doctor’s failure to timely diagnose and provide treatment, call Simmons and Fletcher, P.C. for a free consultation today a (713) 932-0777.

What is Wernicke’s Encephalopathy a/k/a Wernicke’s Disease?

Wernicke’s Encephalopathy is a disorder of the brain caused by biochemical lesions occurring in one or more parts of the brain. Wernicke’s Encephalopathy is typically characterized by three symptoms:

  • Ataxia (loss of muscle coordination)
  • Confusion and loss of mental activity
  • Ophthalmoplegia (ocular disturbance) or Nystagmus (involuntary eye movement)

It has one cause—vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency. If left untreated it can lead to permanent damage, coma and even death.

What is Korsakoff Syndrome?

Korsakoff Syndrome is s the severe impairment of a patient’s memory without any defect in their intellectual capacity. Symptoms of Korsakoff Syndrome commonly include:

  • Changes in personality
  • Hallucinations
  • Inability to form new memories (Impairment)
  • Memory loss
  • Making up stories (Confabulation)

Peripheral Neuropathy has also been reported as prevalent.

What is the Cause of  Wernicke’s Disease and Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome?

There is only one cause of this condition—vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency. The human body cannot produce B1. However, we require B1 for many essential functions and processes such as glucose breakdown, the breakdown of carbohydrates to produce energy, gluteric acid production, metabolize lipids, produce myelin and taurine production.

Can Wernicke’s Encephalopathy and Wernicke’s-Korsokoff Syndrome Be Prevented?

Yes. If the vitamin deficiency is caught early, the condition can be easily treated by supplementing vitamin B1 by both injection and change of diet/nourishment intake. Once the person develops Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, the condition is irreversible.

What is Thiamine?

Thiamine Vitamin B1

Injectable Vitamin B1 Thiamine produced by Redhorse Meds can prevent Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome if timely administered.

Thiamine is also known as vitamin B1 and thiamin. It is found in many foods, can be acquired in pill form as a dietary supplement and can be given by a physician in the form of a B1 injection. The human body requires thiamine for many essential functions and processes such as glucose breakdown, the breakdown of carbohydrates to produce energy, gluteric acid production, metabolize lipids, produce myelin and taurine production.

How is Thiamine (B1) Deficiency Diagnosed?

Clinical diagnosis of thiamine deficiency is made by a finding of two or more of the following symptoms:

  • Loss of balance with mobility/unsteady gait
  • Coma
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Short-term memory issues
  • Visual disturbances
  • Apathy
  • Confusion

Identification of two or more of the above should prompt a doctor to run a simple blood test to determine if thiamine levels are low.  If a blood test is not available for any reason, vitamin B1 has a very low risk of serious side effects when use as prescribed and can be crucial in preventing irreparable brain damage.

Can Wernicke-Korsokoff Syndrome and Wernicke’s Encephalopathy Be Treated?

If the thiamine deficiency it caught soon enough, a B1 injection can reverse all early onset symptoms. However, if it goes untreated too long the symptoms can become permanent. Balancing the patient’s vitamin B1 can prevent further damage or death, but the patient will likely require a long-term life care plan. Persons suffering from Wernicke-Korsokoff Syndrome or Wernicke’s Encephalopathy should consult a qualified medical professional to explore treatment options.

What is the Wernicke’s Area?

The Wernicke’s area is used to describe a portion of the temporal lobe that is responsible for language development. The American Academy of Neurology published an article that states “the Wernicke area has come to be synonymous with the left posterior superior temporal gyrus (pSTG) and supramarginal gyrus (SMG), i.e., the cortices that surround the left posterior sylvian fissure.”

The Wernicke’s area encircles the auditory cortex on the part of the brain where the temporal lobe and parietal lobe meet. When this area of the brain is damaged, it can cause Wernicke’s aphasia.

What is Wernicke’s (Receptive) Aphasia?

Wernicke’s Aphasia is a condition in which the affected individual is capable of speaking words fluently, but without meaningful content. This form of aphasia impares the individual’s ability to understand the meaning of spoken words and sentences; which is why Wernicke’s aphasia is also referred to as “fluent aphasia” or “receptive aphasia”.

Aphasia is usually the result of a traumatic brain injury or developed illness. Depending on the severity and extent of damage to the Wernicke area, one may become unable to understand even the simplest spoken or written information. Symptoms related to Wernicke’s Aphasia include:

  • Attention deficits
  • Fluent, but disrupted speech
  • Severe comprehension deficits
  • Severe impairment of reading and writing

Communicating with those who have Wernicke’s Aphasia

Individuals with Wernicke’s Aphasia usually do not recognize their impairment or fail to comprehend what they are saying is not what they mean to say. These individuals have significant trouble understanding what others are saying; however, they can often understand social cues, such as smiling and nodding. Below are a few strategies one can use to better communicate with an individual affected by Wernicke’s Aphasia:

  • Don’t shout. Raising your voice does not help someone understand you better.
  • Maintain eye contact. Avoid trying to communicate from across the room or far distances.
  • Slow your speech. Keep slight pauses between statements to allow the affected individual to process each sentence. You do not have to change the tone in your voice, just avoid complex sentence structures.
  • Use gestures when speaking.
  • Write down key words when speaking.

These are just a few ways you can help someone with Wernicke’s Aphasia communicate successfully. Always remember to be patient, as it is more frustrating for the affected individual to deal with than you.

Medical Malpractice Law

Medical malpractice is a very complex area of law that has become highly specialized due to tort reform. Many attorneys have quit practicing medical malpractice entirely. There are still some medical malpractice attorneys who specialize int he field and often keep on staff and/or retainer medical professionals to evaluate cases.  At Simmons and Fletcher, P.C. we strive to provide you with the best possible service to maximize your recovery.  Due to the nature of some cases, some cases are likely to be referred to another law firm for handling with the client’s permission.

Free Consultation

Call Simmons and Fletcher, P.C. to a free consultation regarding your case. All cases are taken on a contingency fee basis only, meaning that you pay nothing up front and you pay no fees nor legal expenses unless we win your case.  Call us at (713) 932-0777 today!

This page is for educational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for advice from a qualified medical professional.


Paul Cannon

Paul Cannon has practiced personal injury trial law since 1995. He is Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law (2005). He has earned recognition as a Super Lawyer by Thompson Reuters in 2017 & 2018, and as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers Association in 2017. He is a Shareholder, trial lawyer and online marketing manager at Simmons and Fletcher, P.C. His legal writings have been published by the Texas Bar Journal, Business.com, Lawyer.com HG Legal Resources, Lawfirms.com, and others. He has been asked to give education talks and media interviews on dog bite law.