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Durham University

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Thomson, A. D., Cook, C. C. H., Guerrini, I., Sheedy, D., Harper, C. & Marshall, E. J. (2008). Wernicke's Encephalopathy: 'plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose'. Alcohol & Alcoholism 43(2): 180-186.

Author(s) from Durham


Aims: To develop clinical guidelines to identify individuals who misuse alcohol and are at risk of developing Wernicke's Encephalopathy (WE). Method: Non-systematic literature review of studies which includes a careful clinical record of the development of signs and symptoms of thiamine deficiency and in which the diagnosis of WE has been confirmed at autopsy. Results: The review of the clinical findings in cases of WE, diagnosed at autopsy, shows a consistent pattern of signs and symptoms. The pattern appears to be similar regardless of whether the thiamine deficiency is related to nutritional problems alone or associated with alcohol misuse. Conclusions: The assessment of the degree of thiamine deficiency and the diagnosis of WE remain a clinical evaluation, and guidelines are suggested to help the clinician. Since neurotoxicity due to the metabolism of excessive alcohol in patients with chronic and severe alcohol dependence may be an important factor in determining long-term outcome of treatment, this must form part of the overall evaluation.