Korsakoff's syndrome is a group of symptoms that affect memory. It is caused by a lack of vitamin B1, also known as thiamine. It mainly affects short-term memory. A related disorder, Wernicke's syndrome, often occurs with Korsakoff's syndrome. Because they often occur together, the range of symptoms caused by the two diseases is often called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.
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Thiamine is necessary for memory and other brain functions. The daily requirement of thiamine is 1-3 milligrams per day. Korsakoff syndrome is found in people with:
People are at an increased risk of Korsakoff syndrome if they have had:
- Long-term IV nutrition
- Markedly decreased food intake accompanied by nausea/vomiting due to chemotherapy/cancer
- Chronic disease, such as AIDS
In the US, the most common cause of thiamine deficiency is alcoholism. People who drink a lot of alcohol often replace food with alcohol. As a result, they take in fewer vitamins, leading to deficiencies. In addition, alcohol increases the body's need for B vitamins. This interferes with the body's ability to absorb, store, and use nutrients.
Not all alcoholics get Korsakoff’s syndrome. Some people may be more likely to get it due to genetics. Age also appears to be a risk factor for developing Korsakoff’s syndrome. Alcoholics of more advanced age are more likely to develop the disorder. The direct effects of alcohol on nerves in the brain may also contribute.
Last reviewedMarch 2013by Rimas Lukas, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.