A Case of Wernicke's Encephalopathy After Sleeve Gastrectomy

Endocr Metab Immune Disord Drug Targets. 2023;23(12):1548-1551. doi: 10.2174/1871530323666230508152340.


Background: Wernicke's encephalopathy, resulting from thiamine deficiency, is a rare but serious neurological complication of bariatric procedures. A clinical and radiologic diagnosis is often difficult, and thiamine blood tests are not broadly available. Only a few cases of Wernicke's encephalopathy after sleeve gastrectomy have been reported in the literature, nonetheless, subjects can be underdiagnosed, and their cases can be underreported.

Case presentation: We present the case of a 20-year-old female patient who developed Wernicke's encephalopathy after sleeve gastrectomy for grade II obesity with metabolic complications. She was presented to the Emergency Department showing confusion, gait ataxia and horizontal nystagmus two months after surgery. Persistent vomiting and lack of compliance with vitamin intake were reported. Cerebral MRI showed acute bilateral lesions in the periaqueductal and periventricular regions. Parenteral thiamine supplementation was administered, obtaining a progressive resolution of altered mental status, motor ataxia, and nystagmus. She was discharged on oral thiamine supplementation and underwent a multidisciplinary rehabilitation program, since anterograde, retrograde, and working memory impairment persisted. After a 2-year follow-up, she was compliant with a balanced fractionated diet and vitamin supplementation. A new cerebral MRI showed regression of the neuroradiological findings, but minimal memory impairment remained.

Conclusion: Wernicke's encephalopathy is a concrete possibility after sleeve gastrectomy and should always be suspected in patients with recurrent vomiting, poor nutritional intake, and non-compliance to vitamin supplementation. Immediate and aggressive thiamine supplementation is mandatory to prevent patients from irreversible neurological impairment, even though full recovery is not always achieved.

Keywords: Wernicke’s encephalopathy; acute neurological disorder; bariatric surgery; radiologic diagnosis; sleeve gastrectomy; thiamine deficiency.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Gastrectomy / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Thiamine / therapeutic use
  • Vitamins
  • Vomiting
  • Wernicke Encephalopathy* / diagnosis
  • Wernicke Encephalopathy* / etiology
  • Young Adult


  • Thiamine
  • Vitamins