Korsakoff syndrome

Neurologic disorder caused by thiamine deficiency in the brain.

Chronic alcoholism results in:

  • thiamine deficiency as a consequence of poor nutrition
  • impaired absorption
  • decreased phosphorylation to the enzyme cofactor form of the vitamin, thiamine pyrophosphate.


There are six major symptoms of Korsakoff’s syndrome:

  1. anterograde amnesia –  a loss of the ability to create memories after the event that caused the amnesia.
  2. retrograde amnesia – severe memory loss .
  3. confabulation – invented memories which are then taken as true due to gaps in memory sometimes associated with blackouts.
  4. meager content in conversation
  5. lack of insight –  the power of acute observation and deduction.
  6. Apathy – the patients lose interest in things quickly and generally appear indifferent to change.

 Treatment and Management:

Thiamine replacement or supplementation via intravenous (IV) or intramuscular (IM) injection in conjunction with proper nutrition and hydration.

Despite intervention amnesia and brain damage caused by the disease does not always respond to thiamine replacement therapy. Depending on the severity of the neurologic deficit, the individual may require life long  care and supervision.

Butterworth, Roger, F, Harper, CLive, G, and Kril, Jillian, J. 2007. Thiamine dependent changes in the brain of alcoholics: Relationship to Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. Alcoholism CLinical and Experimental Research. 17 (5) 1084-1088.


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