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Alternative NamesThiamine deficiency; Vitamin B1 deficiency
Definition Return to top
Beriberi is a disease in which the body does not have enough thiamine (vitamin B1).
Causes Return to top
There are two major types of beriberi:
Beriberi is rare in the United States because most foods are now vitamin-enriched. If you eat a normal, healthy diet you should get enough thiamine. Today, beriberi occurs mostly in patients who abuse alcohol. Drinking heavily can lead to poor nutrition, and excess alcohol makes it harder for the body to absorb and store thiamine.
A rare condition known as genetic beriberi is inherited (passed down through families). People with genetic beriberi lose the ability to absorb thiamine from foods. This can happen slowly over time and symptoms occur when the person is an adult. However, because doctors may not consider beriberi in non-alcoholics, this diagnosis is often missed.
Beriberi can occur in breast-fed infants when the mother's body is lacking in thiamine. The condition can also affect infants who are fed unusual formulas that don't have enough thiamine.
Getting dialysis and taking high doses of diuretics raise your risk of beriberi.
Symptoms Return to top
Symptoms of dry beriberi include:
Symptoms of wet beriberi include:
Exams and Tests Return to top
A physical examination may show signs of congestive heart failure, including:
A person with late-stage beriberi may be confused or have memory loss and delusions. The person may be less able to sense vibrations.
A neurological exam may show signs of:
The following tests may be done:
Treatment Return to top
The goal of treatment is to replace the thiamine your body is lacking. This is done with thiamine supplements. Thiamine supplements are given through a shot (injection) or taken by mouth.
Other types of vitamins may also be recommended.
Blood tests may be done after you are given thiamine supplements to see how well you are responding to the medicine.
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
Untreated, beriberi is often deadly. With treatment, symptoms usually improve quickly.
Heart damage is usually reversible, and a full recovery is expected. However, if acute heart failure has already occurred, the outlook is poor.
Nervous system damage is also reversible, if caught early. If it is not caught early, some symptoms (such as memory loss) may remain even with treatment.
If a patient with Wernicke's encephalopathy receives thiamine replacement, language problems, unusual eye movements, and walking difficulties may go away. However, Korsakoff syndrome (or Korsakoff psychosis) tends to develop as Wernicke's symptoms go away.
Possible Complications Return to top
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Beriberi is extremely rare in the United States. However, if you feel your family's diet is inadequate or poorly balanced, and you or your children have any symptoms of beriberi, call your health care provider.
Prevention Return to top
Eating a proper diet that is rich in thiamine and other vitamins will prevent beriberi. Nursing mothers should make sure that their diet contains all vitamins and be sure that infant formulas contain thiamine.
People who drink heavily should try to cut down or quit, and take B vitamins to make sure their body is properly absorbing and storing thiamine.
References Return to top
Brust JCM. Nutrition- and Alcohol-Related Neurologic Disorders. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 443.
Chenoweth WL. Vitamin B Complex Deficiency and Excess. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 18th ed. Philadelphia Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 46.
Kane AB, Kumar V. Nutritional Deficiencies. In: Kumar V, Abbas AK, Fausto N, eds. Robbins and Coltran: Pathologic Basis of Disease. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2005:chap 9.Update Date: 7/12/2008 Updated by: Linda Vorvick, MD, Seattle Site Coordinator, Lecturer, Pathophysiology, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.