Korsakoff's Syndrome

Korsakoff syndrome, which is also known as Korsakoff's amnesic syndrome, is a memory disorder caused by a lack of vitamin B1 and linked to alcoholism.

Last Updated: February 25, 2024

Vitamin B1 turns sugar into energy. Without enough thiamine, the brain will not have enough energy to work properly. Most cases of thiamine deficiency are caused by drinking too much alcohol for a long time. It is harder for the body to take in thiamine and store it in the liver when there is alcohol in the body. It can also make it hard for the body to use vitamin B1 to do other important things.

Korsakoff's syndrome destroys nerve cells and supporting cells in the brain and spinal cord. This includes the part of the brain that is responsible for memory.

The disorder affects about the same number of men and women between the ages of 30 and 70. Some groups, like the homeless, the elderly who live alone, and psychiatric patients, have higher rates of prevalence.

Korsakoff syndrome is characterized by the following symptoms:

  • Inability to remember or amnesia
  • Alterations in behavior, easily agitated or get angry
  • Confabulation
  • Psychotic symptoms, including confusion and delirium
  • Lack of energy or fatigue
  • Hallucinations, most commonly associated with alcohol withdrawal
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Unsteady gait
  • Loss  of consciousness (coma) is a possible complication in the most extreme circumstances

Diagnosis of KS requires extensive clinical evaluation and patient history. Gathering information on a patient’s eating and drinking habits, as well as their present and past actions, can help determine the presence or absence of alcohol abuse. Blood tests and liver function tests are examples of typical diagnostic procedures that can rule out other diseases with comparable symptoms. 

Diagnosis may also be aided by a test for thiamine and erythrocyte transketolase activity, both of which are diminished in KS. 

Treatment

Patients with Korsakoff syndrome should be given vitamin B supplements as the primary treatment, along with adopting a healthier diet, and giving up alcohol drinking. Magnesium and potassium can also be given since these minerals can also be decreased in KS patients. It is possible to keep giving thiamine to patients once a day for up to a few months until their intake is back to normal.

Moreover, certain patients may respond well to psychological therapies intended for the care of mental and emotional illnesses (psychotherapy).

Physical therapy can help people who have trouble with mobility and gait. Depending on the severity of the first mobility loss and the promptness with which therapy is initiated, the difficulties with walking may be permanent. 

If Wernicke's encephalopathy, a precursor stage for Korsakoff syndrome, is recognized and treated immediately and completely, it is possible to reverse most of the symptoms. 

In the presence of Korsakoff’s syndrome the continuation of alcohol consumption may result in permanent nerve and brain damage. 

References

National Organization for Rare Diseases (2022). Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. Retrieved December 12, 2022, from https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/wernicke-korsakoff-syndrome/

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (2022). Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. Retrieved December 12, 2022, from https://www.ninds.nih.gov/health-information/disorders/wernicke-korsakoff-syndrome#:~:text=Korsakoff%20syndrome%20(also%20called%20Korsakoff's,the%20brain%20involved%20with%20memory.

Cleveland Clinic (2022). Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. Retrieved December 12, 2022, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/22687-wernicke-korsakoff-syndrome#symptoms-and-causes

Last Updated: February 25, 2024