“Wet Brain Syndrome,” also known as Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS), is a serious brain disorder caused by a thiamine deficiency due to excessive alcohol consumption.
Those most at risk for developing the debilitating and tragic wet brain disease are long-term, chronic alcoholics.
The disorder is named after Sergei Korsakoff and Carl Wernicke, physicians who independently diagnosed two different phases of this disease in the 19th century, which is why it is called Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome.
According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD), an estimated 1 to 2 percent of the population in the United States suffers from this disease, with most cases presenting in people between the ages of 30 to 70 years old.
Wet Brain Syndrome is a Combination of Wernicke’s Encephalopathy and Korsakoff’s Syndrome
The disorder, Wet Brain Syndrome, is actually the combination of two different conditions.
The neurological aspect of the illness, which causes confusion, coordination issues and abnormalities in a person’s vision, is known as “Wernicke’s Encephalopathy.” This is sometimes referred to as “Wernicke’s Disease (WD).”
On the other hand, “Korsakoff’s Syndrome (KS)” is a mental disorder that severely disrupts a person’s ability to maintain and form new memories. Because of this, it is associated with dementia and sometimes considered alcohol-related dementia.
Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome is the presence of both the mental decline and neurological symptoms of the disease. This combination results in a patient who struggles with intense confusion, difficulties with coordination, and the potential for having auditory and visual hallucinations.
What Causes Wet Brain?
The number one cause of Wet Brain or Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome is alcoholism.
In rare cases, malnutrition caused by disorders like bulimia, can lead to the disease as well.
Long-term, chronic alcohol misuse makes it difficult for the body to absorb and store thiamine, also known as vitamin B-1. Thiamine, which is found in all kinds of foods, is essential for overall health and proper brain functioning.
Most chronic alcoholics already suffer from poor nutrition as a result of their drinking habits. This combined with the body’s inability to effectively process and store thiamine causes lesions on the brain to start to form, which leads to Wernicke’s encephalopathy.
Left untreated, these patients are then at a serious risk of developing memory loss, difficulties understanding basic information, and seeing hallucinations.
What are the Wet Brain Symptoms of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome?
Without treatment, Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome is likely to become steadily worse and can develop into a life-threatening situation.
When assessing and diagnosing the syndrome, physicians will check for vitamin B-1 deficiencies, as well as look for a range of other symptoms.
Wet Brain symptoms can include some of the following:
- Confusion or delirium
- Inability to form new memories
- Lack of muscle coordination
- Muscle atrophy
- Difficulties walking or moving with a staggering gait
- Problems with vision and eye movement
- A history of alcoholism
- Thiamine or vitamin B-1 deficiency
People suffering from this condition may appear to be under nourished and might also suffer from physical injuries because of their poor coordination and vision.
Early diagnosis and intervention is one of the most crucial keys to successfully treating Wet Brain.
Though there is hope of some improvement with the symptoms in some cases if it is diagnosed and treated early within the progression, a total recovery from the disease is not very common.
How is Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome Treated?
Treatment for Wet Brain or Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome is usually focused on controlling the symptoms and preventing the disease from becoming worse.
Some patients will need to be hospitalized and monitored as they go through alcohol detox and withdrawal, which can cause a number of health problems in and of itself.
Complete abstinence of alcohol is considered the most responsible form of treatment, as drinking alcohol will only prolong and exacerbate the symptoms of the disease.
A person suffering from this disease must also develop better nutritional habits and may need, in the early stages of treatment, to take vitamin B-1 thiamine supplements.
People in the early stages of Wet Brain disease may see significant improvements from vitamin B-1 supplements, although those in the later stages usually will not, and there isn’t any way to reverse the disorder for them.
While a proper diet is vital for improvement, maintaining sobriety is even more crucial for staving off the disease.
The most unfortunate aspect of Wet Brain and Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome is that it is preventable by drinking alcohol in a responsible manner or abstaining from it completely, instead of becoming dependent or addicted to it.
Seeking Help for Alcohol-Related Issues
For anyone concerned that they may have a problem with alcohol and are afraid they might be susceptible to Wet Brain symptoms, they should speak with a doctor and seek help for treatment or alcohol addiction as soon as possible because it can be prevented through early intervention.
During Alcohol Awareness Month in April, take the time to learn more about the health aspects of drinking alcohol and the negative consequences of excessive or long-term drinking such as Wet Brain and Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome.
Dr. Elena Kapustina found her true calling and completed her PsyD in Clinical Psychology after earning her MBA and spending years working as the CFO for major corporations. She founded Iris Healing to holistically work with dual diagnosis patients in order to create a more sustainable recovery. From managing 1,000 employees to creating a top of the line treatment center, Dr. Kapustina harnesses her passion to create positive experiences for others.