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The challenge of diagnosing Wernicke’s encephalopathy

| Mar 8, 2021 | Firm News

Texas residents who are afflicted with what is known as Wernicke’s encephalopathy may not receive a prompt proper diagnosis of their condition. One of the reasons why this lack of timely diagnosis occurs is because of a persistent, prevalent misconception that Wernicke’s encephalopathy is a condition that impacts only a select cohort of individuals.

In fact, researchers have concluded that Wernicke’s encephalopathy impacts a larger swath of people. Consequently, physicians need to be aware of the broader implications of this medical condition in order to avoid a misdiagnosis.

What is Wernicke’s encephalopathy?

Wernicke’s encephalopathy occurs as the result of a thiamine deficiency. Symptoms of Wernicke’s encephalopathy include:

  • An altered cognitive state
  • Gait issues or disturbances
  • Nystagmus or eye drift
  • Other eye movement disorders

Wernicke’s encephalopathy and individuals with alcohol use disorder

Historically, medical professionals ascribed Wernicke’s encephalopathy to being a condition associated exclusively with individuals with some type of alcohol use disorder. Wernicke’s encephalopathy was described as a condition arising only among the alcohol-dependent population.

Recognized scope of Wernicke’s encephalopathy today

Medical professionals now understand that Wernicke’s encephalopathy impacts individuals who are not alcohol-dependent. These include a number of patient groups:

  • Individuals who have had bariatric surgery
  • People who underwent gastrointestinal surgery
  • Certain cancer patients
  • Individuals diagnosed with pancreatitis

The failure to properly diagnose a person in a reasonably timely manner is one of the more common incidents of medical malpractice in the United States. The failure to appropriately understand the scope of patients impacted by a condition like Wernicke’s encephalopathy can result in a significant amount of harm.

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