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Acute cerebellar ataxia in a young woman: Wernicke’s encephalopathy?

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Wernicke’s encephalopathy (WE) is a rare but severe neurological syndrome caused by thiamine deficiency. According to the data of autopsy studies, the prevalence of WE in the general population varies from 0.4 to 2.8 per 100,000 population; the disease occurs many times more frequently in alcohol abusers than in people who lead a healthy lifestyle. These studies also showed that most cases of WE were diagnosed postmortem; less than 20% of patients with the disease were diagnosed in life. A healthy adult requires 1–2 mg of thiamine daily, depending on the carbohydrate intake. Body’s reserves of thiamine are only 30–50 mg so any malnutrition condition lasting more than 3–4 weeks can cause complete depletion of the vitamin’s stores. Classically, WE is characterized by the sudden onset of a typical triad of symptoms: an altered mental state, ophthalmoplegia, and ataxia. However, this clinical picture can be seen in only one-third of patients. The onset of the disease may sometimes look completely different: heart failure with hypotension and tachycardia; gastrointestinal symptoms (abdominal pain and nausea); hypothermia due to the involvement of the posterior hypothalamus; deafness affecting the thalamus; epileptic seizures in case of enhanced activity of the glutamatergic system.

The paper describes a clinical case of acute cerebellar ataxia that is apparently caused by Wernicke’s encephalopathy in a young woman.

About the Authors

S. G. Dolgova
M.F. Vladimirskiy Moscow Regional Clinical Research Institute
Russian Federation
61/2 Shchepkin St., Moscow 129110

A. S. Kotov
M.F. Vladimirskiy Moscow Regional Clinical Research Institute
Russian Federation
61/2 Shchepkin St., Moscow 129110

Yu. V. Matyuk
M.F. Vladimirskiy Moscow Regional Clinical Research Institute
Russian Federation
61/2 Shchepkin St., Moscow 129110

M. N. Borisova
M.F. Vladimirskiy Moscow Regional Clinical Research Institute
Russian Federation
61/2 Shchepkin St., Moscow 129110

M. V. Panteleeva
M.F. Vladimirskiy Moscow Regional Clinical Research Institute
Russian Federation
61/2 Shchepkin St., Moscow 129110

A. V. Shatalin
M.F. Vladimirskiy Moscow Regional Clinical Research Institute
Russian Federation
61/2 Shchepkin St., Moscow 129110


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For citations:

Dolgova S.G., Kotov A.S., Matyuk Yu.V., Borisova M.N., Panteleeva M.V., Shatalin A.V. Acute cerebellar ataxia in a young woman: Wernicke’s encephalopathy? Neurology, Neuropsychiatry, Psychosomatics. 2015;7(4):27-32. (In Russ.)

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