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Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome

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Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s psychosis are the acute and chronic phases of Wernicke–Korsakov syndrome, a neurodegenerative process that is caused by thiamine deficiency and predominantly develops in persons with severe alcohol problems. In accordance with classical descriptions, Wernicke’s encephalopathy is manifested by a triad of the following major symptoms: ophthalmoplegia (or nystagmus), ataxia, and clouding of consciousness. The predominance of the subtle forms of Wernicke’s encephalopathy, which hinders its timely recognition and treatment, presents a serious problem. When left untreated, Wernicke’s encephalopathy is characterized by a high risk for a fatal outcome
and transition from acute reversible disorders to chronic irreversible cerebral structural changes associated with the occurrence of memory consolidation. The main manifestation of Korsakoff’s syndrome is the absence of or significant reduction in the ability to store new information with the relative preservation of other psychic functions. Effective care for patients with Wernicke’s encephalopathy and prevention of Korsakoff’s psychosis require that high-dose thiamine should be administered parenterally in good time. Alpha-lipoic acid along with thiamine is used in the treatment of polyneuropathy accompanied by Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome. Untreated Wernicke’s encephalopathy is considered to lead to Korsakoff’s psychosis in above 80% of cases and to death in almost 15–20%. There is complete recovery from Korsakoff’s psychosis in approximately 20% of cases; with the lapse of time there may be a significant recovery of cognitive functions in 25% of cases.

About the Authors

Yu. P. Sivolap
I.M. Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University, Ministry of Health of Russia, Moscow, Russia 8, Trubetskaya St., Build. 2, Moscow 119991
Russian Federation

I. V. Damulin
I.M. Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University, Ministry of Health of Russia, Moscow, Russia 8, Trubetskaya St., Build. 2, Moscow 119991
Russian Federation


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For citation:

Sivolap Y.P., Damulin I.V. Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome. Neurology, Neuropsychiatry, Psychosomatics. 2014;6(4):76-80. (In Russ.)

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