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Korsakoff's Syndrome - Treatment

thiamine memory wernicke patients

Treatment of both Korsakoff's and Wernicke's syndromes involves the immediate administration of thiamine. In fact, any individual who is hospitalized for any reason and who is suspected of being an alcoholic, must receive thiamine. The combined Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome has actually been precipitated in alcoholic patients hospitalized for other medical illnesses, by the administration of thiamine-free intravenous fluids (intravenous fluids are those fluids containing vital sugars and salts which are given to the patient through a needle inserted in a vein).

Fifteen to 20% of all patients hospitalized for Wernicke's syndrome will die. Although the degree of ataxia nearly always improves with treatment, half of those who survive will continue to have some permanent difficulty walking. The paralysis of the eye muscles almost always resolves completely with thiamine treatment. Recovery from Wernicke's begins to occur rapidly after thiamine is given. Improvement in the symptoms of Korsakoff's syndrome, however, can take months and months of thiamine replacement. Furthermore, patients who develop Korsakoff's syndrome are almost universally memory-impaired for the rest of their lives. Even with thiamine treatment, the memory deficits tend to be irreversible, with less than 20% of patients even approaching recovery. The development of Korsakoff's syndrome often results in an individual requiring a supervised living situation.



Andreoli, Thomas E., et al. Cecil Essentials of Medicine. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Company, 1993.

Berkow, Robert, and Andrew J. Fletcher. The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy. Rahway, NJ: Merck Research Laboratories, 1992.

Isselbacher, Kurt J., et al. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. New York: McGraw Hill, 1994.

Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt


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—Inability to remember events or experiences. Memory loss.

Anterograde amnesia

—Inability to retain the memory of events occurring after the time of the injury or disease which brought about the amnesic state.


—An attempt to fill in memory gaps by fabricating information or details.

Retrograde amnesia

—Inability to recall the memory of events which occurred prior to the time of the injury or disease which brought about the amnesic state.

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