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Psychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2018 Oct;72(10):774-779. doi: 10.1111/pcn.12735. Epub 2018 Jul 31.

Preventing Wernicke's encephalopathy in anorexia nervosa: A systematic review.

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Experimental Psychology, Helmholtz Institute, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands.
Korsakoff Center Slingedael, Lelie Care Group, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.


Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a common eating disorder that affects 2.9 million people worldwide. Not eating a balanced diet or fasting can cause neurological complications after severe vitamin B1 malnourishment, although the precise signs and symptoms of Wernicke's encephalopathy (WE) are not clear. Our aim was to review the signs and symptoms of WE in patients with AN. We searched MEDLINE, EMBASE, Scopus, and PiCarta on all case descriptions of WE following AN. All case descriptions of WE in AN, irrespective of language, were included. Twelve WE cases were reviewed, suggesting that WE following AN is still a relatively rare neuropsychiatric disorder. WE is characterized by a triad of: mental status change, ocular signs, and ataxia. In alcoholism, this triad is present in 16% of cases, but eight out of 12 AN cases presented themselves with a full triad of symptomatology. Importantly, patients often had a more complex triad than has been previously described, involving vertigo, diplopia, and the consequences of refeeding syndrome. The development of a full triad and additional symptomatology suggests a late recognition of signs and symptoms of WE in AN. A complicating factor is the overlap between symptoms of thiamine deficiency and the symptoms of WE. Specifically, patients who show rapid weight loss are vulnerable for the development of WE. Eating disorders, such as AN, can lead to WE. Prophylactic thiamine checks and treatment in patients with AN are relevant, and in case of suspicion of WE, adequate parenteral thiamine supplementation is necessary.


Wernicke's encephalopathy; anorexia nervosa; clinical nutrition; dietary; thiamine

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