Wernicke’s Syndrome & Thiamine Deficiency

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Wernicke’s syndrome is a severe and underdiagnosed brain disorder that is as life-threatening as it is fast. Also known as Wernicke’s encephalopathy, the disorder is directly caused by thiamine deficiency—which is more commonly known as vitamin B1.

The lack of vitamin B1 causes bleeding in the lower part of the brain where the thalamus and hypothalamus are located. This can result in the loss of mobility and body control (ataxia), extreme confusion, sudden psychosis (known as Korsakoff psychosis), and involuntary eye movements (nystagmus) or loss of muscle strength in the eyes (opthalmoplegia).

Both bariatric surgery and prolonged IV use without vitamin supplements have been linked to Wernicke’s as well.

How Medical Negligence Leads to Wernicke’s Encephalopathy

Experts say that Wernicke’s is far more common than doctors realize—some say that up to 80% of cases are left undiagnosed. In many cases, Wernicke’s is discovered as a result of an autopsy, not a medical examination. The threat of thiamine deficiency is a well-documented medical event, and doctors and nurses are trained to ensure that their patients receive vitamin B1 supplements when they’re at risk.

So why do people still suffer from Wernicke’s?

It’s a doctor’s responsibility to monitor and mitigate the risks patients face. They need to be on their guard when their patients have a history of bariatric surgery, prolonged IV use, or are suffering from pneumonia or meningitis. In fact, fever and infection are two common inciting factors before Wernicke’s encephalopathy develops.

When Wernicke’s is diagnosed late, there are usually two outcomes:

  • Fatality
  • Long-term institutional care

The brain damage that results from Wernicke’s is almost always severe. About 80% of cases never recover after long-term treatment, so institutional care is often lifelong. The good news is that the effects of Wernicke’s syndrome are reversible if treated early. However, even in these cases neurological dysfunction can persist for months.

The Cost of Institutional Care

Recent studies on the cost of state-run institutional care shows how massive of an economic burden these cases can be on the victims. In Texas, the average yearly cost of institutional care is $145,000 per patient. Community care is often much lower—$40,000 a year—but most Wernicke’s syndrome victims are incapable of even the modest independent function required for community living.

The total lifetime costs of someone with a severe brain injury can exceed $10 million.

These costs don’t begin to account for the emotional pain suffered by the victim’s loved ones. Watching your once-healthy husband, wife, son, or daughter suddenly become incapable of moving voluntarily or speaking coherently is a pain no amount of money can make whole.

Why We Became Houston Medical Malpractice Lawyers

For over 50 years, Hampton & King has fought for individuals and families left broken and destitute due to the negligence of their doctors. We have secured millions in verdicts and settlements because that’s what our clients deserve for the losses and pain they’ve suffered. It’s also what they need for the lifelong care, loss of employment, and loss of personal independence that most brain injury victims are facing.

Hampton & King is one of the only firms in Texas or New Mexica committed solely to representing medical malpractice cases—which the Texas legislature has made notoriously difficult to try in our state. Our team is also one of the only firms in the nation that has full-time medical professionals on staff to assist with case development. When you call to share your story, the first people who will hear your case are a physician and a Ph.D. nurse, each of whom has years of treatment experience.

Their insight and experience allows them to determine what likely happened to you and whether you have valid grounds for a lawsuit. Our attorneys can then lay out your legal options and help you decide what you want to do next. Above all else, we want to provide you with answers and peace of mind.

Call (713) 489-0993 or contact us online to tell us about what happened to you. Our Houston medical malpractice lawyers are standing by to answer your questions and investigate your injuries.