MR imaging findings in alcoholic and nonalcoholic acute Wernicke's encephalopathy: a review

Biomed Res Int. 2014:2014:503596. doi: 10.1155/2014/503596. Epub 2014 Jun 24.


Wernicke's encephalopathy (WE) is a severe neurological syndrome caused by thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency and clinically characterized by the sudden onset of mental status changes, ocular abnormalities, and ataxia. Apart from chronic alcoholism, the most common cause of WE, a lot of other conditions causing malnutrition and decreasing thiamine absorption such as gastrointestinal surgical procedures and hyperemesis gravidarum must be considered as predisposing factors. Due to its low prevalence and clinical heterogeneity, WE is often misdiagnosed, leading to persistent dysfunctions and, in some cases, to death. Nowadays, MR imaging of the brain, showing T2 and FLAIR hyperintensities in typical (thalami, mammillary bodies, tectal plate, and periaqueductal area) and atypical areas (cerebellum, cranial nerve nuclei, and cerebral cortex), is surely the most important and effective tool in the diagnostic assessment of WE. The aim of this paper is to propose a state of the art of the role of MR imaging in the early diagnosis of this complex disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholism / complications
  • Alcoholism / diagnosis*
  • Alcoholism / pathology
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Prognosis
  • Wernicke Encephalopathy / diagnosis*
  • Wernicke Encephalopathy / epidemiology
  • Wernicke Encephalopathy / etiology
  • Wernicke Encephalopathy / pathology