What is wet brain syndrome?

Published On: October 3, 2017

Wet brain disease is a form of brain damage caused by long-term exposure to alcohol. Wet brain disease is classified as Alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD). Wet brain disease will arise when a person consumes large doses of alcohol over many years.  The majority of people who suffer from wet brain disease also suffer from chronic alcoholism.

Wet brain disease is also known as Wernicke- Korsakoff’s Syndrome (WKS). Wet brain disease arises due to a deficiency of thiamine, or vitamin B1. This deficiency is known as beriberi disease. Alcohol affects the brain’s ability to absorb thiamine. Alcohol also reduces the amount of reserved thiamine contained in the liver.

Why is thiamine so important to normal brain functioning?

Thiamine is utilised by all tissues located throughout the body. Many enzymes located in the brain also utilise thiamine in order to function. Thus, when the brain is not able to absorb thiamine due to alcohol exposure, essential tissues and enzymes located within the brain begin to suffer. This gradually results in brain damage.

How does wet brain disease develop?

Wet brain disease develops in two stages. Wet brain disease is comprised of two separate conditions: Korsakoff’s psychosis and Wernicke’s encephalopathy.  Wernicke’s encephalopathy gives rise to a number of neurological symptoms. These symptoms result from lesions in the nervous system. Wernicke’s encephalopathy affects the hypothalamus and the thalamus located in the lower portion of the brain. Wernicke’s encephalopathy may be reversed with treatment. To prevent Wernicke’s encephalopathy developing into Korsakoff’s psychosis, patients must stop drinking alcohol and consume thiamine supplements.

What are the symptoms of wet brain disease?

Wet brain diseases encompass both Korsakoff’s psychosis and Wernicke’s encephalopathy.

Symptoms of Wernicke’s encephalopathy include:

  • Memory loss
  • Confusion
  • Reduction in mental activity
  • Reduction in muscle coordination
  • Damage to eyesight

Symptoms of Korsakoff’s psychosis include:

  • Severe memory loss
  • Lose the ability to form new memories
  • Experience auditory and visual hallucination
  • Fabricating stories to account for memory gaps

How is wet brain disease diagnosed?

Unfortunately, there currently does not exist an agreed diagnostic testing for wet brain disease. When diagnosing wet brain disease, medical examiners look out for the signs of vitamin deficiency. One tell-tale sign of a vitamin deficiency is the patient’s physical appearance and displaying certain behaviours. If these signs are coupled with known alcohol abuse, the medical examiner is well advised to request further tests on his or her patient.

Initially, it is best practice for the medical examiner to neurological tests where wet brain disease is suspected. These tests include an examination of the patient’s eyes, reflexes and muscle mass. Wet brain disease causes the reflexes to diminish and also causes sufferers to experience rapid eye movements. Those who suffer from wet brain disease will also suffer from muscle atrophy. This is because thiamine is used to assist in the development of muscles located throughout the body.

The medical examiner must also examine the way in which his or patient walks. When a person suffers from wet brain disease, he or she is also likely to suffer from a walking abnormality. Medical examiners should also look for a raised heart rate when wet brain disease is suspected.  Those suffering from wet brain disease will experience a rapid heartbeat. This is known as tachycardia. Wet brain disease also weakens parts of the brain responsible for monitoring body temperature and blood pressure. Thus, medical examiners should be on the lookout for low blood pressure and an abnormal body temperature when wet brain disease is suspected.

Another tell-tale sign of wet brain disease is malnutrition. Medical examiners should conduct a blood test. This blood test will reveal vitamin deficiencies. The blood test will check the patient’s serum albumin. This reveals the patient’s state of general nutrition. The blood test should also reveal the patient’s thiamine level. A reduction in transketolase activity in red blood cells indicates a thiamine deficiency.

How is wet brain disease treated?

Wet brain disease gives rise to a range of symptoms described above. Some of these symptoms, such as rapid eye movements, may be treated with medications. Medical professionals should also prescribe thiamine supplements to increase levels of thiamine. B1 supplements should be taken orally or intravenously. When thiamine is ingested, the symptoms of confusion are known to reduce.

If Korsakoff’s psychosis has arisen, these medications will not improve the patient’s memory or intellect. These symptoms are unfortunately irreversible. It is also vital for people suffering from wet brain disease to undergo treatment for alcoholism. This will prevent the progression of wet brain disease.

Is there a cure for wet brain disease?

Whilst many of the symptoms of wet brain disease may be alleviated with medication, the key symptoms of memory loss and loss of intellect are irreversible. This is the case when Korsakoff psychosis has arisen. Taking Vitamin B1 supplements will not reverse memory loss and loss of intellect.


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