Visual Loss, Retinal Hemorrhages, and Optic Disc Edema Resulting From Thiamine Deficiency Following Bariatric Surgery Complicated by Prolonged Vomiting

Ochsner J. 2017 Spring;17(1):112-114.


Background: Vision loss resulting from thiamine deficiency is a recognized complication of bariatric surgery. Most patients with such vision loss have Wernicke encephalopathy with characteristic changes seen on neuroimaging. Other patients may have retinal hemorrhages, optic disc edema, and peripheral neuropathy without Wernicke encephalopathy. The risk for thiamine deficiency is potentiated by the presence of prolonged vomiting.

Case report: A 37-year-old female presented with abrupt onset of vision loss and peripheral neuropathy following bariatric surgery. She had a history of prolonged vomiting postoperatively. Examination of the posterior segment of the eye revealed optic disc edema and large retinal hemorrhages bilaterally. Metabolic workup demonstrated thiamine deficiency. She responded quickly to parenteral thiamine therapy with recovery of normal vision and resolution of ophthalmologic findings.

Conclusion: Patients who undergo bariatric surgery and have a thiamine deficiency can present with visual symptoms and ophthalmologic findings only visible by fundoscopy prior to developing more severe and potentially irreversible complications from the vitamin deficiency. Early detection of intraocular changes resulting from thiamine deficiency and initiation of therapy could prevent more devastating neurologic manifestations. Our case supports the consideration of a prospective study aimed at determining the true incidence of ocular and visual changes such as retinal hemorrhage, optic disc edema, and peripapillary telangiectasia in patients following bariatric surgery.

Keywords: Bariatric surgery; optic nerve diseases; retinal hemorrhage; thiamine deficiency; vomiting.

Publication types

  • Case Reports