Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome is a serious condition that happens when a patient doesn’t get enough thiamine in their diet. Diagnosing this condition quickly and starting treatment as soon as possible is key to minimizing the long-term effects of this syndrome. But often, doctors fail to get patients an accurate diagnosis in a timely manner.

Below, we’ll discuss WKS, what causes it, and why you might be eligible for compensation.

What Is WKS?

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome is a brain and memory disorder that results from a severe thiamine deficiency. Thiamine, better known as B1, is an essential vitamin that can be found in whole grains, legumes, and some meat and fish. Most people get the 1 or so mg of thiamine they need each day in their normal diet.

However, in some cases, people may fail to get the thiamine they need and, if they suffer this deficiency for long enough, they may develop Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome.


There are two stages to WKS: Wernicke’s encephalopathy and Korsakoff syndrome. One of the first symptoms of Wernicke’s encephalopathy is memory loss and confusion. A patient may make things up to cover for their forgetfulness or may seem disoriented, delusional, or drowsy. 

Some patients also experience balance problems or unsteady gait. They may also suffer hypothermia, heart problems, or problems with their muscle coordination. Eye problems are also common among WKS patients, including drooping eyelids, double vision, or abnormal eye movement.

Left untreated, Wernicke’s encephalopathy can proceed to Korsakoff syndrome. This is a chronic memory disorder that can result in the inability to form new memories, delirium, disorientation, or even hallucinations. Severe cases can even lead to a coma.


In most cases, diagnosing WKS is a matter of looking at symptoms and running a blood test. Your doctor may ask you about your family history, your diet, and your personal medical history. They may also want to run a liver function test, as liver failure is a common sign of this condition.

Your doctor may also want to rule out any other conditions that could be causing your symptoms. They may want to run a drug screening, a complete blood count, an arterial blood gas, an MRI, a CT scan, or an electrocardiogram. 

Can WKS Be Prevented or Cured?

As you might guess from the fact that WKS is caused by a vitamin deficiency, it’s a completely preventable condition. Getting enough thiamine in your diet will ensure that you don’t develop this condition. And as long as it’s caught early enough, treatment can help to alleviate the symptoms.

That being said, there is currently no cure for Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. It is possible to prevent Wernicke’s encephalopathy from developing into Korsakoff syndrome with proper treatment. 

What Causes It?

Although most people get enough thiamine to prevent WKS in their normal diet, there are some circumstances that can lead to a severe enough deficiency to trigger the condition.

Prolonged Periods of Nausea and Vomiting

Suffering prolonged periods of nausea and vomiting can lead to malnutrition, including a thiamine deficiency. Because you’re expelling the thiamine you do get in your food, your body doesn’t have a chance to absorb it. People who are experiencing morning sickness related to pregnancy, who are bulimic, or who are vomiting routinely and often for any other reason should talk to their doctor about whether they’re at risk for WKS.

Gastric Bypass Surgery

Patients who have recently had gastric bypass surgery may also be at higher risk for a thiamine deficiency. This surgery causes food to bypass sections of the digestive system, including the duodenum, which is where thiamine is mostly absorbed. This, combined with the limited diet gastric bypass patients have to follow, can limit the amount of thiamine they’re able to get from their diet.

Alcoholism and Liver Disease

One of the most common root causes of WKS is alcoholism or liver disease. Your liver plays a huge role in absorbing thiamine, and if it’s not functioning properly or it’s busy absorbing alcohol from your system, you may not be able to get the thiamine you need.

Misdiagnosis of WKS

When it comes to managing symptoms from WKS, getting a timely diagnosis is critical. The sooner you get diagnosed and begin treatment, the better your prognosis will be. Unfortunately, WKS can go diagnosed and may progress to a point where your symptoms are severe and incurable. 

If you have WKS and didn’t get diagnosed for a long time, you could be entitled to compensation. Your doctor has a duty to make sure you get the treatment you need in a timely manner, and if they fail to do so, you could be owed a settlement. This money can help cover your medical expenses, as well as compensating you for your pain and suffering.

Get the Compensation You Deserve

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome is a serious condition that, if diagnosed early enough, can be manageable. Left untreated, however, it can develop into a much more dire syndrome. Early diagnosis is key to getting the best prognosis, and if your doctor fails to get you a correct diagnosis soon enough, you could be entitled to compensation.

If you have WKS that went misdiagnosed, Schultz & Myers wants to help. Our Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome misdiagnosis lawyers will fight for your rights and make sure you get every dollar you’re owed. Schedule a free consultation with us today to discuss your case.

Contact Our Medical Malpractice Law Firm in St. Louis, MO

If you’ve been injured, please contact Schultz & Myers Personal Injury Lawyers at the nearest location to schedule a free consultation today:

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