What is Beriberi?
Beriberi is a disease caused by a vitamin B-1 deficiency, also known as thiamine deficiency. There are two types of the disease: wet beriberi and dry beriberi. Wet beriberi affects the heart and circulatory system. In extreme cases, wet beriberi can cause heart failure. Dry beriberi damages the nerves and can lead to decreased muscle strength and eventually, muscle paralysis. Beriberi can be life-threatening if it isn’t treated.
If you have access to foods rich in thiamine, your chances of developing beriberi are low. Today, beriberi mostly occurs in people with an alcohol use disorder. Beriberi from other causes are rare in the United States. Still, the disease can be seen in women who have extreme nausea and vomiting in pregnancy (hyperemesis gravidarum), in people with AIDS, and after bariatric surgery.
The symptoms of beriberi vary depending on the type.
Wet beriberi symptoms include:
- shortness of breath during physical activity
- waking up short of breath
- rapid heart rate
- swollen lower legs
Dry beriberi symptoms include:
- decreased muscle function, particularly in the lower legs
- tingling or loss of feeling in the feet and hands
- mental confusion
- difficulty speaking
- involuntary eye movement
In extreme cases, beriberi is associated with Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Wernicke encephalopathy and Korsakoff syndrome are two forms of brain damage caused by thiamine deficiency.
Wernicke encephalopathy damages regions of the brain called the thalamus and hypothalamus. This condition can cause:
- memory loss
- loss of muscle coordination
- visual problems such as rapid eye movement and double vision
Korsakoff syndrome is the result of permanent damage to the region of the brain where memories form. It can cause:
- loss of memory
- inability to form new memories
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