Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome Lawyer

Attorneys for Wernicke-Korsakoff Encephalopathy Syndrome

A Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome lawyer can help if your doctor fails to diagnose a vitamin B1 deficiency leading to you developing 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.” Speak to a Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome lawyer if you suspect you or your loved one was diagnosed with this condition as a result of medical malpractice. Call 1-800-298-0111.

WKS Developing After a Surgery or Hospital Stay

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome a/k/a Wernicke’s Encephalopathy is a serious disease caused by vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency that often involves significant and permanent brain damage.  This condition commonly develops after a patient undergoes gastric bypass surgery or any other procedure or medical condition in which a patient is deprived of vitamin b1 and the doctor and/or a subsequent emergency room doctor fails to recognize the signs and symptoms of Wernicke’s Encephalopathy until it is too late to reverse the process. If you have been a victim of misdiagnosis of vitamin B1 deficiency, speak to a Wernicke-Korsakoff lawyer today.

What is Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome?

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome is a neurological condition that is 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. It is a disease characterized by confusion, amnesia, impaired short-term memory, confabulation, muscle weakness, paralysis of eye muscles, tremor-like eye movement, and in later stages, coma.

How Can Medical Malpractice 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
  • Malnutrition After Surgery
  • Alcoholism (not typically a medical negligence situation)

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 Thiamine 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 Surgery (Weight Loss)

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 longer 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 thiamine 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 thiamine 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 who 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. Failure to do so when the condition is in its early onset may give rise to a vitamin B1 misdiagnosis case. Causation is often extremely difficult to pinpoint in these situations due to the voluntary overuse of alcohol. Especially if the individual delays in going to the emergency room and reporting the symptoms until it is already too late to reverse them. Thus, cases involving alcohol-induced WKS may not meet the medical malpractice case criteria.

How Can Bariatric Surgery Cause Wernicke’s Encephalopathy?

doctor with patient

Early diagnosis of Vitamin B-1 deficiency is critical.

Certain medical procedures (bariatric surgery) and conditions will result in a person being deprived of required nutrients including vitamin B1. When your body lacks b1 for sufficient time, it can result in permanent irreversible brain damage resulting in Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. When a patient presents to a doctor complaining of neurological symptoms related to Wernicke-Korsakoff Disease, a detailed history of the patient should trigger the doctor to explore the possibility of vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency.

If a doctor fails to check for this and a patient with Wernicke-Korsakoff disease dies or suffers permanent brain damage, it is a direct result of a doctor’s failure to diagnose vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency. Sadly, had there been a timely diagnosis, a simple timely B1 injection can prevent brain damage from occurring.  If you are a victim of a vitamin B1 misdiagnosis, you may qualify to file a claim seeking compensation for negligence, permanent brain damage, or wrongful death.

What Damages Can a Wernicke-Korsakoff Lawyer Seek?

The damages that you may recover vary to some degree by the state in which the negligence occurs. However, in general, you are entitled to seek damages for the following:

  • Past and future medical costs for the care and treatment of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome.
  • Pain and suffering that you have endured and will continue to endure when dealing with the condition for the rest of your life.
  • Lost wages and lost earning capacity for any inability to work resulting from the development of Wernicke-Korsakoff Encephalopathy.
  • Loss of enjoyment of life.
  • Lifecare costs that are required to provide for your future.
  • In some states, punitive damages may be available depending on the facts.

Speak to a Wernicke-Korsakoff attorney regarding the specific facts of your case to learn more.

Misdiagnosis of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

When it comes to Wernicke 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.

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 at (713) 932-0777.

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Review: 5/5 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ” I had a great experience with Simmons and Fletcher. Sharon Simmons Cantrell did an exceptional job on my case. She was attentive and sweet and fought hard for me. I would recommend her and the entire firm to anyone. Thank you for all you did for me!”-Sandra W., actual client.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Below are some of the most common questions asked about Wernicke-Korsakoff and related conditions.

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—thiamine deficiency. If left untreated it can lead to permanent damage, coma, and even death.

What is Korsakoff Syndrome?

Korsakoff Syndrome is 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.

Are There Any Other Causes of Wernicke’s Disease and Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome?

The only cause of this condition is 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, glutaric acid production, metabolize lipids, produce myelin, and taurine production.

Can Wernicke’s Encephalopathy and Wernicke’s-Korsakoff 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 (Vitamin B1) and Why is it Important?

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, glutaric acid production, metabolize lipids, produce myelin, and taurine production.

What Are the Symptoms of Thiamine Deficiency?

When someone suffers from Vitamin B1 deficiency, there are several symptoms that may develop. Some of these include:

  • Body weakness or inability to carry out routine daily functions
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Strange emotional/psychiatric responses to the chemical imbalance including, night terrors, panic attacks, extreme responses to otherwise normal stressors
  • Irregular heart rate
  • In extreme cases, Wernicke Encephalopathy and/or Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome.

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 used as prescribed and can be crucial in preventing irreparable brain damage.

What Should You Do if You Suspect a Vitamin B1 Deficiency?

Thiamine HCL

If you suspect that you may be suffering from a vitamin B1 deficiency, seek medical care immediately. Express your concern to a qualified physician. If the condition is caught early enough, a Vitamin B1 shot can cure the condition. Failure to catch and treat this condition can result in permanent catastrophic injury.  If you suspect you have signs of Wernicke Korsakoff Syndrome or Wernicke Encephalopathy, seek emergency medical care immediately. If you suffer from this condition as a result of a failure of a doctor to diagnose this condition, call Simmons and Fletcher, P.C. for a free consultation.

Is There Treatment for Wernicke-Korsokoff Syndrome and Wernicke’s Encephalopathy?

If the thiamine deficiency is caught soon enough, a B1 injection can reverse all early-onset symptoms. However, if it goes untreated for 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 impairs 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.

Tips on How To Communicate 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 keywords 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.

Talk to a Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome Attorney Today

If your loved one is suffering from Wernicke Korsakoff Syndrome that developed after they experienced the symptoms and sought quick to immediate medical help but were told it was “all in their head” or that it was some other condition and sent home, talk to a Wernicke-Korsakoff attorney to determine your rights. Misdiagnosis of a vitamin B1 deficiency can cause life-long problems. You may have legal rights. Our attorneys and the attorneys we work with in medical malpractice matters work on a contingency fee basis. That means you pay nothing up front and you are charged no fees nor attorney expenses unless a recovery is made for you.


Alarming Increase in Medical Malpractice Claims Related to Wernicke’s Encephalopathy Post Bariatric Surgery: An Alert to Monitor for Thiamine Deficiency

Dr. David Yousem, Johns Hopkins Medicine, reviews and highlights diagnosing thiamine deficiency before the development of encephalopathy.


This information page is for educational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for advice from a qualified medical professional.  Some medical malpractice cases are handled in co-counsel with other law firms and/or may be referred to those firms for evaluation and/or handling.



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