n South African Medical Journal - Encephalopathy after persistent vomiting : three cases of non-alcohol-related Wernicke's encephalopathy : forum - clinical alert

Volume 105, Issue 6
  • ISSN : 0256-9574
  • E-ISSN: 2078-5135



Wernicke's encephalopathy (WE) is a medical emergency. Although WE is commonly viewed in the context of alcoholism, it can be caused by thiamine deficiency secondary to persistent vomiting. Non-alcohol-related WE may be more catastrophic in onset and less likely to present with the classic features than WE with alcoholism as a cause. We describe three cases of WE due to persistent vomiting without alcoholism in patients with hyperemesis gravidarum, drug-induced hyperlactataemia, and an acute gastrointestinal illness in an already malnourished individual. Our cases highlight the importance of recognising WE when undernutrition, which may be caused by gastrointestinal disease or surgery, or malignancy, is compounded by vomiting. Expert guidelines suggest that WE must be considered in the emergency room in any individual with disturbed consciousness of unknown cause. Treatment is with parenteral thiamine before glucose administration.

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