Wernicke's Encephalopathy Misdiagnosed as Psychiatric Disorder


The long-term implications of failure to promptly diagnose and treat Wernicke’s Encephalopathy are severe. Early intervention is key, as treatment with Thiamine has been demonstrated to prevent the worst effects of the disease, so long as the treatment is provided before irreversible damage is done to the brain.

Wernicke’s Encephalopathy is associated with a triad of presenting symptoms, which include:

  • Ophthalmoplegia, characterized by weakness or paralysis of certain muscles responsible for eye movement
  • Ataxia, characterized by irregularities in gait, speech, or eye movements
  • Confusion, characterized by an inability to recall basic details and facts

Of these, confusion is the most common, present in over 4 out of every 5 diagnoses of Wernicke’s Encephalopathy. Confusion is also, unfortunately, a common symptom of other diseases, and emergency room physicians and other healthcare practitioners may fail to connect confusion to WE and may make a different and incorrect diagnosis.

One misdiagnosis that can occur due to the symptom of confusion (along other common symptoms of Wernicke’s Encephalopathy including depression, apathy, and irritability) is a diagnosis of psychosis or other mental illness, or even alcohol intoxication. When a person presents with confusion and an abnormal gait, jumping to conclusions regarding mental health is extremely dangerous.

Taking the time to properly evaluate physical symptoms rather than jumping to conclusions is an important part of the diagnostic process, but it is the part that is too often neglected by physicians who are more interested in seeing patients as quickly as possible rather than providing quality care.

If you or someone you love has suffered due to a missed diagnosis of Wernicke’s Encephalopathy, you likely understand just how treatable the disease would have been if early detection had occurred. Please, consult with an experienced lawyer and hold the medical establishment responsible for failing patients.

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Finz & Finz, P.C. is a New York and Long Island personal injury law firm based out of Mineola, NY. It was founded in 1984 and is highly rated, with many honors and awards of excellence.