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Wernicke encephalopathy is characterized by confusion, ataxia, and nystagmus leading to ophthalmoplegia (lateral rectus muscle weakness, conjugate gaze palsies); peripheral neuropathy may also be present. It is due to thiamine deficiency and in the United States occurs most commonly in patients with alcohol use disorder. It may also occur in patients with AIDS or hyperemesis gravidarum, and after bariatric surgery. In suspected cases, thiamine (100 mg) is given intravenously immediately and then intramuscularly on a daily basis until a satisfactory diet can be ensured after which the same dose is given orally. Some guidelines recommend initial doses of 200–500 mg intravenously three times daily for the first 5–7 days of treatment. Intravenous glucose given before thiamine may precipitate the syndrome or worsen the symptoms. The diagnosis is confirmed by the response in 1 or 2 days to treatment, which must not be delayed while awaiting laboratory confirmation of thiamine deficiency from a blood sample obtained prior to thiamine administration. Korsakoff syndrome occurs in more severe cases; it includes anterograde and retrograde amnesia and sometimes confabulation and may not be recognized until after the initial delirium has lifted.

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