How do doctors misdiagnose Wernicke’s encephalopathy?

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nursing errors
Legally reviewed by:
Steven R. Davis and John A. Davis, Jr.
August 4, 2023

Wernicke’s encephalopathy is a neurological condition that can cause confusion, poor coordination and paralysis of the muscles within or surrounding the eye. Despite these common symptoms of the disease, it is not always simple to diagnose.
While bloodwork may show a lack of vitamin B1, or thiamine, in the body, a deficiency isn’t always the first thing that is suspected. For example, if a patient isn’t honest about heavy alcohol use, then the medical provider might not think to test for a vitamin B1 deficiency. They might consider a stoke, dementia or other conditions first based on the symptoms the patient presents with.
WE is a degenerative disorder, so as it continues, the symptoms may make it so that it’s much easier to funnel down to a diagnosis. Worsening symptoms of mental confusion, hypothermia and poor muscle control will eventually mean that other issues are ruled out.

Why don’t doctors check for vitamin deficiencies first?

B1 vitamin deficiencies are rare. They occur in only around 200,000 people annually. Thiamine deficiencies can also be treated by replacing thiamine, so if a person changes their diet or cuts back on alcohol, the symptoms may improve.
It’s important for those who are showing signs of WE to have their vitamin levels checked. If the condition progresses to Korsakoff’s syndrome, then memory loss may begin. Tremors, coma and disorientation will become more prominent.

Is a late diagnosis dangerous for people with WE?

It can be. While most symptoms can be reversed once they’re detected and treated, improvement of memory function is usually delayed and incomplete. If someone goes without treatment for too long, the disorder may disable them and become life-threatening.
If you suffered from WE and had a delayed diagnosis that left you with permanent brain injuries, it’s important that you speak out about what you’ve gone through. With the appropriate, early diagnosis, it’s possible to prevent serious symptoms from impacting a person’s life. Unfortunately, delayed diagnoses can be damaging and fatal for some. If you’ve been hurt, it is your right to look into a malpractice claim. Medical providers should be held responsible if they cannot get an accurate diagnosis when others in the field would have.

John A. Davis, Jr.


John A. Davis, Jr. and Steven R. Davis

August 4 2023

Steven R. Davis and John A. Davis, Jr. are experienced attorneys at Davis & Davis, a law firm that specializes in medical malpractice cases in Texas. With a deep commitment to justice that guides their ethical approach, Davis and Davis have dedicated their careers to helping victims of medical negligence. They and their team continue to advocate for clients, despite the challenges posed by Texas's cap on recoverable damages in malpractice lawsuits. Davis & Davis pride themselves on their extensive experience in the field and their readiness to meet clients across the United States.

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