A Case of Bariatric Surgery-related Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome with Persisting Anterograde Amnesia

Arch Clin Neuropsychol. 2017 Aug 1;32(5):610-617. doi: 10.1093/arclin/acx037.


Objective: To describe the theoretical and clinical implications of the neuropsychological evaluation of a case of bariatric surgery-related Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.

Method: The patient was a 37-year old, female, bilingual, bachelor's degree educated, Mexican American public relations consultant without preexisting psychiatric, neurological, or substance abuse history. Recovery from laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy surgery for morbid obesity was complicated by intraabdominal abscess, multibacterial infection, and prolonged nausea and vomiting. About 15 weeks post-surgery she was diagnosed with Wernicke's encephalopathy. She had a positive response to thiamine supplement but was left with persisting self-reported memory problems that were confirmed by family members. Multiple neuroimaging studies were all normal.

Results: A neuropsychological evaluation at 14 months post-surgery revealed anterograde amnesia for verbal and visual-perceptual material. There was no clear period of temporally graded retrograde amnesia. Scores on tests of visual-perceptual, language, fine motor, and executive functions were unimpaired. She had awareness of her neurocognitive impairment, but did not exhibit emotional distress. Follow-up neuropsychological evaluation at 17 months showed a similar neurocognitive profile with increased emotional distress.

Conclusions: Her preserved executive functioning is theoretically important as it supports arguments that such impairment in alcohol use-related Korsakoff syndrome derives from the toxic effects of the prolonged misuse of alcohol and not vitamin deficiency. From a clinical perspective, neuropsychological evaluation of thiamine treated, bariatric surgery-related, Wernicke's encephalopathy cases is indicated if there is suspicion of residual memory impairment.

Keywords: Amnesia; Assessment; Cross-cultural/minority; Executive functions.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amnesia, Anterograde / etiology*
  • Bariatric Surgery / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Korsakoff Syndrome / etiology*
  • Obesity, Morbid / surgery*
  • Wernicke Encephalopathy / etiology*