Bariatric Surgery Increases Risk of Wernicke's Encephalopathy

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Surgeries of all types are associated with an increased risk of Wernicke’s Encephalopathy, a neurological condition caused by a lack of B-vitamins, particularly Thiamine. But bariatric surgeries are associated with a particularly high post-operative prevalence of this disease.

The reason for this increased incidence is unclear, though it has been observed across genders and age groups, with adolescents who undergo this form of surgery also having an increased risk. The most likely explanation is that bariatric surgery has a significant effect on the digestive system, and lower absorption rates of vitamins could be a post-operative side effect.

If diagnosed and treated quickly, Wernicke’s Encephalopathy is usually reversible. If not caught quickly, long-term damage to the central nervous system can be the result. The treatment for this disease is simple and cost-effective. Patients are supplemented with high levels of Thiamine, and these supplements can be provided even before diagnosis if there is sufficient cause to suspect the disease.

It is important for doctors and nurses working in the surgical recovery room to be aware of the symptoms of Wernicke’s Encephalopathy. These symptoms include ophthalmoplegia, ataxia, and confusion. Watching for irregularities in eye movements and for involuntary muscle movements could help with earlier diagnosis and treatment, increasing the likelihood of a positive outcome.

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with Wernicke’s Encephalopathy, and is still dealing with the long-term health effects of the disease, please consult with an experienced lawyer. Whether suffering memory loss or other nervous system defects, consulting with a qualified lawyer can help you evaluate your case and determine whether the diagnosis should have been made more promptly, and whether earlier intervention might have prevented the ongoing effects of the disease.