Long-Term Mortality of Patients with an Alcohol-Related Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

Alcohol Alcohol. 2017 Jul 1;52(4):466-471. doi: 10.1093/alcalc/agx013.


Aims: To characterize a series of contemporary patients with alcohol-related Wernicke's encephalopathy (WE) or Korsakoff's syndrome (KS) and to update the current prognosis of disease.

Methods: Retrospective and prospective study of patients diagnosed with an alcohol-related WE or KS between 2002 and 2011 in a tertiary hospital. Socio-demographic, alcohol use characteristics, signs and symptoms, co-morbidity and blood parameters were obtained at admission. Patients were followed up until 2013 and causes of death were ascertained through the review of charts.

Results: Sixty-one patients were included (51 with WE and 10 with KS). Among patients with WE, 78% were men and age at diagnosis was 57 years (interquartile range (IQR): 49-66). Twenty-three percent fulfilled the classic WE triad. Regarding Caine's criteria for WE, 70.6% presented with at least two out of four signs or symptoms. Median follow-up of patients with WE syndrome was 5.3 years (IQR: 2.6-8.8), the cumulated mortality was 45% and death rate of 7.4 × 100 person-years (95% confidence interval (CI): 4.8-10.9). Overall, 50% of patients would be expected to die within 8 years of WE episode and main causes of death included serious bacterial infections (44.5%) and cancer (33.3%).

Conclusions: Survival of patients with an alcohol-related Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is poor; pursuing treatment of alcohol use disorder and early diagnosis of thiamine deficiency is a priority for improving clinical outcomes.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Alcoholic Korsakoff Syndrome / diagnosis
  • Alcoholic Korsakoff Syndrome / mortality*
  • Cause of Death
  • Comorbidity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prognosis
  • Prospective Studies
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Spain / epidemiology
  • Wernicke Encephalopathy / diagnosis
  • Wernicke Encephalopathy / mortality*