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Reversing Wernicke Syndrome In Alcoholics

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Posted at 1:37 PM, Aug 10, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-07 16:50:27-04

ST. LOUIS. (Ivanhoe Newswire) - What do pregnant women, alcoholics and morbidly obese people have in common? They are all at risk for a syndrome that could cause brain damage and memory loss. But now there’s a simple solution to help keep them all healthy.

Suzannah Hessler cooks healthy, eats healthy and even draws healthy; but a year ago Suzannah was near death.

“It just spiraled out of control,” Hessler told Ivanhoe.

Suzannah’s been an on-again, off-again alcoholic since she was a teenager.

“Every time I saw her, it was quite obvious that she had been drinking,” Susie Gudermuth, Suzannah’s Aunt said.

A court order forced her into the hospital. It was there she found out she had Wernicke encephalopathy.

Her excessive drinking triggered a syndrome that causes brain damage.

“Her short term memory was almost non-existent. She would finish breakfast and could not tell you afterwards what she ate for breakfast,” her Aunt explained.

Wernicke encephalopathy is caused by a lack of thiamine or vitamin B1. Gregory Day, MD, Neurologist at Washington University in St. Louis studies what it does to the brain.

“The first sign would be confusion, sleepiness, drowsiness, or acting differently,” Dr. Day explained.

Alcohol stops the absorption of vitamin B and Dr. Day said that all too often, patients are not getting the treatment they need.

“I was quite surprised just at a local level, to find out that much more often than we’d like to, our residents and my colleagues were prescribing a pill when they should have been prescribing an injection,” Dr. Day said.

Day’s research shows that 42 percent of patients were only given a thiamine pill, not an injection or an IV putting them at risk of brain damage and memory loss.

“With high-dose, intravenous therapy that rapidly corrects the level, and fixes what’s going on in the brain,” he said.

It can even reverse the damage.

Suzannah’s been alcohol-free for one year. She was first treated with an IV of thiamine and is now on a daily dose of it, her short-term memory is returning.

“I mean I almost died. That is a place that I intend to never go back to” Hessler explained.

Wernicke encephalopathy can also happen to pregnant women who are suffering severe morning sickness or obese people once they have bariatric surgery. Dr. Day said there’s no risk of giving a patient too much thiamine while being treated in the hospital.

If you are not in a high-risk group, don’t worry about not getting enough thiamine.

It’s actually in almost everything we eat, including grains, whole grains and even meat.