What is Korsakoff’s Syndrome?

Korsakoff’s syndrome is the most well-known form of alcohol-related brain damage. Many believe it is the only form or most common form of ARBD and indeed, Korsakoff’s syndrome is much more prevalent than other forms of ARBD, like alcoholic dementia, for example.

Korsakoff’s syndrome normally develops as part of a condition known as Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. The syndrome has two distinct but linked stages which include Wernicke encephalopathy then Korsakoff syndrome. The syndrome is diagnosed in those with alcoholism in about one in eight people. However, not every sufferer will present with Wernicke encephalopathy before developing Korsakoff’s syndrome.

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How does Wernicke encephalopathy evolve?

Encephalopathy is a disorder that affects brain function. Wernicke encephalopathy normally comes on quickly, often after a sudden withdrawal from alcohol without medical treatment and help. The condition presents with a number of different symptoms, but they may not be obvious and can be hard to diagnosis.

Wernicke encephalopathy symptoms can include:

Feeling disoriented, confused or suffering from a mild form of memory loss

Malnutrition – for example, the person is very thin

Twitching eye movements or complete paralysis of the eye muscles

Problems with balance or unsteadiness, or other signs of damage on the part of the brain called the cerebellum (areas involved in movement coordination). Those with the syndrome can often benefit from care services similar to those available for people with dementia.

If Wernicke’s encephalopathy is suspected, immediate medical care is very important. The person will require high doses of thiamine (vitamin B and others) is injected slowly into a vein. When the treatment is speedy and timely, the majority of the symptoms can be undone within a matter of days. Unfortunately, lasting and irreversible brain damage can occur should Wernicke’s encephalopathy not be treated or not treated properly in time. In some severe cases people can die.

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How does Korsakoff syndrome develop?

Wernicke encephalopathy where not treated, or not treated promptly, usually develops into Korsakoff Syndrome, although the process is often gradual. The damage occurred in some areas of the brain – especially in important small deep areas of the brain can result in a severe loss of short-term daily memory. Many other capabilities may remain intact, such as working memory (information held in our heads for a short time before using it, such as working out how much it will cost something).

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