Our bodies need thiamine for multiple essential functions, the most important of which is to convert food into fuel that the body can use to produce energy. Thiamine — commonly called Vitamin B1 — also strengthens your immune system and helps your body endure stressful conditions. Given the essential role thiamine plays, it stands to reason that medical doctors should be able to recognize and anticipate the circumstances that will put their patients at risk for this deficiency. Every physician understands from their training that if thiamine deficiency is allowed to go on to the point of developing symptoms, it may be too late for a complete recovery from those symptoms. The only chance for a meaningful recovery is for thiamine to be administered immediately and urgently. Unfortunately, failures to prevent and diagnose thiamine deficiency are all too common. If you’ve been harmed because of this, our Houston, Texas Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome lawyer can help. Contact Davis & Davis today.
Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome Lawyer | Standing Up for Victims of Delayed Diagnosis in Houston, Texas
Thiamine deficiency is associated with a long list of serious medical problems, including Wernicke’s encephalopathy — a potentially fatal brain disease that neurologists say is underdiagnosed.
At Davis & Davis, Attorneys at Law, we are familiar with these cases, and we are committed to helping improve hospital protocol to ensure that medical professionals diagnose and treat thiamine deficiency before it is too late. As medical malpractice attorneys, we also stand up for the victims of delayed diagnosis of thiamine deficiency and Wernicke’s encephalopathy. A Harris County, Texas medical malpractice lawyer from our firm can help you.
Common Causes and Symptoms
A dangerous lack of thiamine can occur before or after a patient is admitted for medical treatment, but patients who have undergone gastrointestinal surgery or bariatric surgery may be especially at risk. Even women who have severe, prolonged nausea and vomiting during pregnancy are at great risk for this nutritional deficiency. Diets rich in carbohydrates may also increase the need for thiamine.
Any patient who presents post-surgical signs of undernourishment, dehydration, or prolonged nausea and vomiting should be evaluated for thiamine deficiency. If left untreated, acute thiamine deficiency can lead to lesions in vulnerable areas of the brain and permanent brain damage.
While many people have never heard of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, medical professionals should be keenly aware of those susceptible to the disorder, especially following medical treatment. Signs of acute thiamine deficiency include:
- Loss of balance while walking
- Visual disturbances
- Inability to concentrate
- Mental sluggishness and short-term memory issues
Those experiencing any of these symptoms should immediately consult with medical professionals.
We hold medical professionals to a high standard of care because medical mistakes can cause permanent harm to patients. That is certainly the case when thiamine deficiency and Wernicke’s encephalopathy go untreated. Patients presenting any of the symptoms mentioned here should seek immediate medical attention.
When determining whether or not a patient is thiamine-deficient, doctors tend to consider only a few known symptoms called the triad. Those three commonly recognized symptoms are confusion, dysfunction of the eye muscle (nystagmus), and loss of balance. The reality, however, is that a patient with thiamine deficiency may not present any of the symptoms in the classic triad.
In our legal practice, we have also found that simple breakdowns in communication between medical professionals have resulted in failure to treat known cases of thiamine deficiency, resulting in devastating outcomes for patients.
The tragedy in the Wernicke’s cases we see is that, in every one, the treatment is simple, very fast-acting, cheap, and without known complications: a simple shot of vitamin B1. The consequences when Wernicke’s is not detected and treated as it should be: severe, permanent disability.
Frequently Asked Questions About Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome
Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is a treatable condition that often goes undiagnosed and can result in a brain disorder that gets progressively worse, eventually becoming life-threatening. Here are some frequently asked questions about the disease.
What is Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome?
The brain disorder is caused by a lack of thiamine (vitamin B1), which is involved in body functions, including:
- Proper functioning of the nervous and muscular systems
- Regulating minerals (electrolytes) in muscle and nerve cells
- Enzyme processes
- Metabolizing carbohydrates
- Hydrochloric acid production for proper digestion
- Common sources of thiamine in our diet include beef, pork, whole wheat grains, beans and lentils, oranges, rice, nuts, oats and yeast.
What causes the syndrome?
Because thiamine is in almost everything we eat, our bodies don’t have the need to store more than about 15-20 days’ worth of it. So ANY condition that results in an inability to consume normal types and quantities of food for more than 2 weeks, runs the risk of depleting our body’s thiamine stores, resulting in deficiency, and neurologic injury shortly thereafter.
Some examples of conditions that can result in thiamine deficiency: grossly unhealthy diet, alcohol binging, eating disorders, and disorders that result in prolonged, frequent vomiting where a person is unable to keep food or liquids down(such as chemotherapy, intractable vomiting in pregnancy, or prolonged, repeated vomiting after bariatric/weight-loss surgery).
We are even seeing examples of patients who, for medical reasons, had to be placed on Total IV Nutrition (TPN) for a period longer than 2 weeks. It is the responsibility of the doctors making that decision, the pharmacists formulating the IV nutrition, and the hospital dieticians advising the team, to ensure that IV nutrition contains not only the protein and carbohydrates that are essential, but the essential vitamins and minerals that their patient will have no way of consuming outside of the IV nutrition they are ordering. But, unfortunately, we are seeing cases of the medical team or the pharmacy mixing the IV nutrition, failing to include thiamine, a vitamin that is vital to all the cells in our body, but most importantly critical brain cells. The resulting injuries from this inexcusable oversight, are devastating and permanent.
Why is thiamine deficiency often underdiagnosed or undiagnosed?
A recent study by the Mayo Clinic concluded Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome often goes undetected by doctors because it rarely meets the classic diagnosis “triad” of confusion, eye muscle dysfunction (nystagmus) and problems with balance. However, the reality is that many patients with thiamine deficiency do not show any of these symptoms, let alone all three at the same time.
What are the potential consequences of undiagnosed thiamine deficiency?
The devastating truth for people with this disorder is that treatment – a vitamin B1 shot – is fast-acting, simple, affordable and has no known complications. Even after patients are diagnosed with the first stage of the syndrome, called Wernicke encephalopathy, the disorder’s progression can be halted in many cases through intravenous injections of thiamine and changes to their diets.
However, left untreated, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome can lead to lesions forming in vulnerable areas of the brain, causing permanent brain damage. Vision problems, coordination difficulties, mental confusion and ultimately death can result.
Can I hold doctors accountable for failing to diagnose Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome?
Yes. Medical professionals are held to a high standard of care because medical errors can cause permanent harm or even death. That is certainly the case for people with thiamine deficiency that goes undiagnosed and untreated. A Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome lawyer from our firm can help you fight for your compensation.
Contact a Wernicke–Korsakoff Syndrome Lawyer Today
If you suffer from Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, it is advisable to contact a knowledgeable attorney who understands the complex nature of this disorder and deals exclusively with medical malpractice claims. Davis & Davis, Attorneys at Law has nearly 70 years of combined experience handling these cases in Texas and across the country. Contact us today so we can get started.