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How Texans Can Recognize Thiamine Deficiency Before It's Too Late

At Davis & Davis, a major part of our legal practice is representing people who have been injured because of hospital errors. Often these mistakes could have been prevented if doctors, nurses or anesthesiologists had correctly used their medical knowledge or simply followed hospital protocol.

One area where medical protocol needs to improve is the treatment of thiamine deficiency, otherwise known as Vitamin B1 deficiency, which can lead to a potentially fatal brain disease called Wernicke's encephalopathy. Here we'd like to take a few moments to explain how your doctor - and you - can recognize thiamine deficiency before it's too late.

Physicians are not sufficiently educated on the dangers of Vitamin B1 deficiency and how to recognize and treat it.

If thiamine deficiency isn't treated, it can lead to permanent brain damage. Patients may lose their ability to form new memories, and untreated thiamine deficiency can be fatal.

Historically, thiamine deficiency has been associated with chronic alcoholism, and doctors have commonly examined alcoholics for three symptoms linked to lack of Vitamin B1:

  • Loss of balance while walking
  • Confusion
  • Dysfunction of the eye muscle

If the patient presented all three of the symptoms - known as the triad - then the doctor would give the patient thiamine.

The trouble is that not all patients with thiamine deficiency present all three symptoms, and alcoholism isn't the only condition that can cause Wernicke's encephalopathy.

Cancer, Crohn's disease, morning sickness, liver dysfunction, fevers that cause infection - these can all cause Vitamin B1 deficiency. If doctors only examine alcoholics for lack of thiamine, then other patients with the condition are put at risk. At Davis & Davis, we advocate for improved hospital protocol for recognizing and treating thiamine deficiency.

Patients and their loved ones are also encouraged to ask their physicians to consider nutritional deficiency as the possible cause of a medical problem, particularly if any of the three triad symptoms are present.

Keep in mind, too, that a person with thiamine deficiency may appear otherwise healthy but is really starving for Vitamin B1.

For more on this important issue in the medical field, please see our previous post, "3 Things Texans Should Know About Wernicke's Disease." 

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