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Wernicke Korsakoff Syndrome : Wernicke Korsakoff Syndrome is primarily caused by the deficiency of thiamine, (Vitamin B1) usually due to chronic alcohol abuse. But Korsakoff Syndrome can have other origins other than alcohol abuse - chronic vomiting that may inhibit the absorption of Thiamine.

Neurological complications of alcohol abuse may also result from nutritional deficiency exacerbated by the excessive intake of alcohol which depletes Vitamin B1 - thiamine essential for normal nervous system. Sudden changes in blood chemistry specifically sodium, may cause central pontine myelinolysis, a condition of the brainstem in which nerves lose their myelin coating. Other complication include Liver disease and alcoholic cirrhosis.

Such conditions - if left untreated can progress to the onset of Wernicke encephalopathy - whose symptoms include marked confusion, delirium, disorientation, memory loss and drowsiness. Physical Examination may reveal abnormalities of eye movement, jerking of the eyes (nystagmus) and double vision. Even walking may seem hard to do as the patient has problems with balance and muscular co-ordination. If thiamine is not administered soon Wernicke encephalopathy may progress to stupor, coma and death.

If Thiamine is administered in time, the patient may escape from death but Korsakoff’s syndrome may still leave him/her crippled from permanent memory impairment - some may not remember events for a period of a few years before the onset of illness (retrograde amnesia) and unable to learn new information (anterograde amnesia).
Repeated episodes of Encephalopathy and/or prolonged alcohol abuse may lead to Korsakoff psychosis a form of dementia.

Alcoholic myopathy or muscular weakness due to breakdown of muscle tissue, is called as alcoholic rhabdomyolysis or alcoholic myoglobinuria. Usually men are affected by alcoholic myopathy about 4 times as often as women. Breakdown of muscle tissue (myonecrosis), can occur at any time during binge drinking or in the first days of alcohol withdrawal. Although this itself may not result in any apparent symptom in the initial stages, it can still be detected by temporary elevation in blood levels of an enzyme the MM fraction of creatine kinase - found in muscles.

Wernicke Korsakoff syndrome also known as Cerebral Beriberi, usually occurs in chronic alcoholics and affects the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). It can be caused by a situation that aggravates a chronic thiamine deficiency, like an alcoholic binge or severe vomiting.

Zieve's Syndrome

A syndrome that is characterized by acute metabolic condition that can occur during prolonged alcohol abuse. It was described initially in 1958 by Dr Leslie Zieve for patients with a combination of alcoholic liver disease Hemolytic Anemia and Hypertriglyceridemia. Zieve's syndrome exhibits liver and blood abnormalities caused by heavy alcohol consumption.


This is a condition associated with chronic alcoholism, frequently encountered in hospitalized alcoholics who have suddenly stopped alcohol. The underlying cause is liver delipidization and hemolytic anemia. This is distinct from alcoholic hepatitis which may be present simultaneously or develop later. The syndrome is defined by excessive blood lipoprotein, jaundice and abdominal pain.


Symptoms

Most common symptoms due to long-term history of chronic alcoholism include:

Nausea
Vomiting after heavy drinking
Anorexia
Abdominal pain
Hepatomegaly, enlarged spleen, late cirrhosis
Skin and yellow sclera
Hemolytic Anemia, Hemoglobinuria (hemoglobin is excreted in urine) and Hemosiderin (insoluble form of storage iron complex) in urine.
Hepatic dysfunction, Jaundice, Hyperlipidemia and reversible hemolytic anemia after alcohol abuse are prominent symptoms.


Causes of Zieve's Syndrome

Zieve's syndrome is caused by alcoholism due to liver cell damage and various degrees of cholestasis thus causing cancer. Fatty liver production of free fatty acids into blood stream, increased triglycerides that causes hyperlipidemia and increased cholesterol and phospholipid deposition, and damaged red blood cells which become hard and brittle and blocked by splenic sinusoids. In addition, alcoholism induced pancreatitis and vitamin E deficiency is associated with hemolysis.


Diagnosis of Zieve's Syndrome

The diagnosis is based from objective information about alcoholism, and blood test for the abnormalities. It is based on history and the triple disease – jaundice, hemolytic anemia and hyperlipidaemia. For jaundice, moderate and direct bilirubin test is done. Hemolytic anemia is visible in hemoglobinuria and hemosiderin urine. There could be drop in hemoglobin, reticulocytes, bone marrow erythroblastic hyperplasia, and increased erythrocyte fragility and shortened life of red blood cells.

Hyperlipidemia is detected by increase in cholesterol, triglycerides and phospholipids. Diagnostic tests include hemoglobin, bone marrow examination, blood lipids including cholesterol, phospholipids, triglycerides, serum bilirubin, alkaline phosphatase, and liver function test and liver biopsy. Ultrasonography is done to reveal the syndrome. There could be rapid serum level rise after alcohol withdrawal in patients with denial of drinking.


Treatment

Temperance for two to three weeks is essential for symptoms to disappear. A diet high in sugar-protein, vitamins and hepatoprotective drug is necessary. In addition to jaundice, treatment for high blood cholesterol and hemolytic anemia are essential. Basic therapy includes bed rest, adequate food intake, hydration and vitamin supplementation. The patient usually recovers from the symptoms very quickly, but the disease can recur if alcohol abuse persists.



Delirium Tremens

Delirium Tremens or DT is a serious condition of alcohol withdrawal syndrome. DT leads to sudden and severe mental and nervous system changes.


Causes of Delirium Tremens

When a person suddenly stops drinking alcohol after a period of heavy consumption, and does not eat enough food, delirium tremens occurs. This means, a person consuming 4-5 pints of wine or 7-8 pints of beer of a pint of hard alcohol every day for several months. This could happen to people with more than a decade of drinking alcohol.

One important reason is that in long term drinkers, alcohol interferes with body's ability to regulate a neurotransmitter called GABA. In chronic alcohol abuse, the body mistakes alcohol for GABA and reacts to this by reducing its production of the neurotransmitter. As alcohol levels falls too low, it means there is not enough GABA for proper functioning. This can also occur due to infection, injury and illness in people with a history of heavy alcohol use and abuse.


Signs and symptoms of Delirium Tremens

Symptoms normally occur within 72 hours of the last drink, but they can also occur up to 10 days after the last drink. Common symptoms include:


  • Body tremors
  • Functional changes
  • Agitation
  • Anger and irritability
  • Confusion and loss of focus
  • Reduced attention span
  • Deep sleep that lasts for a day or longer
  • Excitement and fear
  • Hallucination
  • Hyperactivity
  • Quick mood reversals
  • Restlessness
  • Sensitivity to light, sound and touch
  • Sleeplessness and fatigue.

There could be seizures, most commonly in the first 12-48 hours after the last drink. As DT can temporarily reduce the amount of blood flow to the brain, symptoms as confusion, disorientation, stupor and loss of consciousness and hallucinations occur. There are other medical complications that can arise due to alcohol abuse. These include:


  • Alcoholic liver disease
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Neuropathy
  • Blood clotting disorders
  • Wernicke Korsakoff's syndrome, a brain disorder due to thiamine deficiency
  • Injury from fall during seizures
  • Irregular heartbeat which can be life threatening
  • Delirium and injury to self/others in a state of confusion

The body goes through change due to withdrawal of alcohol when a person suddenly stops drinking after prolonged use. Alcohol has a slowing and sedating effect on the brain and the brain of a long term drinker is conditionally exposed to the depressant effect of alcohol. The brain starts producing naturally stimulating chemicals to compensate for the effect of alcohol. Hence, if the alcohol is withdrawn suddenly, the brain is lost. This dangerous condition of delirium tremens occurs in almost 1 out of every 20 persons. In this condition the brain is unable to read the chemistry after alcohol is stopped and therefore creates a temporary confusion leading to dangerous changes in the way the brain regulates body circulation and breathing. This creates risk of heart attack, stroke and death.


Diagnosis of DT

Blood tests can be done to assess blood magnesium and blood phosphate levels. Comprehensive metabolic panel and toxicology tests are also conducted. A stay in hospital in required for treatment. Regular checks of blood chemistry levels, such as electrolytes, body fluids level and vital signs such as temperature, pulse, breathing rate and blood pressure are monitored. Medications such as anticonvulsants, central nervous system depressants and sedatives are administered for symptoms such as seizures and irregular heartbeat. Sometimes the patient is put in a state of sedation for a week until withdrawal is complete. Benzodiazepine medications are given to treat seizures, anxiety and tremors. Only after the patient recovers from immediate symptoms is long term preventive treatment given. The doctor allows a ‘drying out' period in which no alcohol is consumed.

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Collection of Pages - Last revised Date: October 19, 2019