Wernicke Encephalopathy in an Elderly Patient Due to Chronic Malnutrition From an Atypical Diet




LewisGale Medical Center

Document Type

Case Report

Publication Date



wernicke encephalopathy, non-alcoholic wernicke's encephalopathy


Emergency Medicine | Internal Medicine | Nervous System Diseases | Nutritional and Metabolic Diseases


Wernicke encephalopathy has traditionally been associated with chronic alcohol abuse leading to thiamine deficiency. Clinical symptoms include mentation change, gait ataxia, and oculomotor abnormalities. However, it is often an underdiagnosed condition in patients suffering from chronic malnutrition, especially in the West. We examine a unique case of non-alcoholic Wernicke encephalopathy in an elderly patient.

The patient had a long history of chronic malnutrition due to her atypical diet, consuming an unbalanced diet deprived of thiamine, unbeknownst to her. She presented with symptoms of encephalopathy, recurrent falls, and pupillary changes. After exhausting all other therapeutic interventions, she received a thiamine infusion; her mentation and other symptoms improved dramatically.

Thiamine deficiency can lead to severe complications, including Wernicke encephalopathy and cardiomyopathy. Wernicke encephalopathy can progress to Korsakoff syndrome, which is characterized by amnesia and confabulation. Case reports, such as ours, may remind clinicians to keep thiamine deficiency as a viable differential while evaluating acute encephalopathy, especially in the malnourished geriatric population.

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