Imaging-Based Diagnosis of Wernicke Encephalopathy: A Case Report




Introduction: Wernicke encephalopathy (WE) is a medical emergency characterized by ataxia, confusion, nystagmus and ophthalmoplegia resulting from thiamin deficiency. Alcoholism is the common cause for this disease. Case Presentation: A 41-year-old man was brought to our emergency department (ED) complaining of confusion. One week earlier he had started to experience severe nausea and vomiting followed by diplopia, dysarthria and also dysphagia. One day later he had experienced gait disturbance and progressive ataxia accompanied with confusion, apathy and disorientation. He had no history of alcoholism, drug abuse or previous surgery but had history of untreated Crohn disease. Just before arrival to our emergency department, he had been hospitalized in another center for about a week but all investigations had failed to provide a conclusive diagnosis. Upon admission to our ED, he was dysarthric and replied with inappropriate answers. On physical examination, bilateral horizontal nystagmus in lateral gaze, left abducens nerve palsy and upward gaze palsy were seen. Gag reflex was absent and plantar reflexes were upwards bilaterally. After reviewing all the previously performed management measures, MRI was performed and was consistent with the diagnosis of WE. Treatment with thiamine led to partial resolution of his upward gaze palsy and nystagmus on the first day. At the end of the third day of treatment, except for gate ataxia, all other symptoms completely resolved and he was fully conscious. After the fifth day his gait became normal and after one week he was discharged in good general condition. Discussion: After reviewing the current literature, it seems that brain MRI can be helpful in the diagnosis of WE in patients with the classic clinical trial in the absence of clear risk factors.