Wernicke's encephalopathy is an acute neuropsychiatric syndrome resulting from thiamine deficiency, which is associated with significant morbidity and mortality. According to autopsy-based studies, the disorder is still greatly underdiagnosed in both adults and children. In this review, we provide an update on the factors and clinical settings that predispose to Wernicke's encephalopathy, and discuss the most recent insights into epidemiology, pathophysiology, genetics, diagnosis, and treatment. To facilitate the diagnosis, we classify the common and rare symptoms at presentation and the late-stage symptoms. We emphasise the optimum dose of parenteral thiamine required for prophylaxis and treatment of Wernicke's encephalopathy and prevention of Korsakoff's syndrome associated with alcohol misuse. A systematic approach helps to ensure that patients receive a prompt diagnosis and adequate treatment.