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3 Things Texans Should Know About Wernicke's Disease

At Davis & Davis, we represent people throughout Texas who have been injured because of medical malpractice, and we'd like to take some time here to highlight a growing concern in the medical field: Wernicke encephalopathy.

To understand this life-altering condition, you have to understand the importance of Vitamin B1. Like all B vitamins, Vitamin B1 helps the body process food into glucose, which your body then converts into energy.

Foods that provide Vitamin B1 include beef, poultry, pork, rice, whole grain cereals, peas, beans and bran.

Vitamin B1 is also called thiamine, which is needed for a healthy heart, brain, nervous system and immune system, as well as other body functions. Make no mistake: Vitamin B1 deficiency is serious. It can lead to numerous brain diseases, including Wernicke encephalopathy.

1. Neurologists believe that Wernicke's disease is underdiagnosed.

Wernicke encephalopathy is potentially fatal, and it is often associated with chronic alcoholism, though that isn't the only factor that can lead to the disease.

It can present a wide range of symptoms, including double vision, loss of balance, loss of muscle coordination, confusion, profound memory loss, hallucinations and coma. If the condition is not treated, it can result in permanent brain damage and death.

In a study published in Scientific American Medicine, neurologists at Loyola University Medical Center found that Wernicke's encephalopathy is likely underdiagnosed, with clinical studies showing a diagnosis rate of 0.13 percent, and autopsies showing a rate of 2.8 percent. That discrepancy represents a serious risk for patients.

2. Failure to treat thiamine deficiency can have devastating consequences.

Unfortunately, there have been cases of Wernicke encephalopathy that could have been prevented with the right treatment, but medical errors resulted in permanent damage to the brain and nervous system.

Often, when Wernicke's disease develops into what is known as Korsakoff syndrome, the patient is unable to form memories and may not even be able to recall events in the last 30 minutes.

3. Numerous kinds of medical errors can lead to Wernicke's encephalopathy.

Failure to monitor the patient; failure to access and correctly read medical records; failure to obtain lab results in a timely manner; failure to order the right tests -- all of these mistakes could have catastrophic consequences for a patient with thiamine deficiency. And researchers have shown that failure to treat thiamine deficiency happens all too often.

In fact, acute encephalopathy can have an onset of days or even hours, and it is crucial that doctors and hospitals develop an effective protocol for diagnosing and promptly treating Vitamin B1 deficiency.

At Davis & Davis, we represent victims of medical malpractice throughout Texas, and we advocate for the development of protocol for preventing and treating thiamine deficiency. We understand how devastating Wernicke's disease and other brain disorders can be, and we have a strong record of success in getting justice for our clients.

To learn more about holding negligent hospitals accountable, please see our hospital malpractice overview.

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