Beriberi is a disease caused by a vitamin B1 deficiency, also known as thiamine deficiency. It often occurs in developing countries among people with a diet that consists mostly of white rice or highly refined carbohydrates.
There are two types of the disease:
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, in the United States, beriberi mostly occurs in people with an alcohol use disorder and may also occur as a complication of weight loss surgery.
Beriberi from other causes is rare in the United States. Still, the disease can be seen in:
Beriberi is not common in the United States or other developed countries. However, certain risk factors may increase the likelihood of developing this rare disease. Not all people with risk factors will get beriberi. Risk factors for beriberi include:
There are two types of beriberi that affect different parts of the body. Both can be dangerous:
Other possible symptoms of beriberi include:
If these symptoms aren’t attended to when they first appear, beriberi may progress into Korsakoff syndrome, a kind of encephalopathy, which refers to damage or disease that affects the brain. Extensive damage to parts of the brain, particularly the thalamus and hypothalamus, may cause severe confusion and memory loss, one of the main signs of Korsakoff syndrome.
This is a rare but serious condition and is not reversible once the damage sets in. It's important to see a doctor as soon as possible when you first start showing signs of thiamin deficiency to avoid the possibility of the condition advancing to Korsakoff.
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:
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