Symptoms Of Beriberi Disease: Causes, Diagnosis & Treatment

Beriberi develops due to vitamin B 1 (thiamine) deficiency. Two categories – wet beriberi and dry beriberi are known to occur. Wet beriberi afflicts the heart and the circulatory system. While dry beriberi impairs the nerves and muscles, and in due course causes muscle paralysis. Beriberi can be life threatening if it is neglected and not managed promptly.

By and large, the condition is seen in alcoholics. Rarely, it occurs in women who have undue vomiting during pregnancy, after a bariatric surgery and in HIV patients.

Signs And Symptoms Of Beriberi Disease

Wet beriberi symptoms are:

  • Breathlessness during physical exertion.
  • Waking up short of breath.
  • A rapid heart rate.
  • Lower limbs are swollen.

Dry beriberi symptoms are:

  • A reduction in muscle function, more so, in the legs.
  • Tingling numbness of the extremities.
  • Difficulty while speaking.
  • Involuntary eye movement.
  • Body pain
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Paralysis

In extreme cases, beriberi is known to cause Wernicke’s Korsakoff syndrome. This condition impairs the thalamus and hypothalamus in the brain and results in confusion, forgetfulness, no muscle coordination, hallucinations and visual trouble.

Causes And Risk Factors Of Beriberi

The chief etiological factor is a diet that is deficient in vitamin B 1.

It is very rare in places where you have access to foods which are enriched with vitamins, such as cereals and breads.

Risk factors for beriberi include:

  • Alcohol abuse is the primary cause which makes it very difficult for the body to absorb and store vitamin B1, thereby triggering an insufficiency.
  • Genetic beriberi prevents your body from absorbing thiamine as it should.
  • Too much of nausea and vomiting during pregnancy.
  • Diarrhea of long standing.
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Bariatric surgery
  • HIV
  • Kidney dialysis
  • Use of diuretics

Breastfeeding mothers must have sufficient amounts of vitamin B 1 in their everyday diet. If a baby consumes breast milk or formula which does not have adequate amounts of thiamine, it is at a risk for deficiency.

Diagnosis And Treatment Of Beriberi

  • Your doctor will order a battery of tests to determine whether or not you have beriberi and the level of deficiency. Blood and urine tests assess thiamine levels in the body.
  • Neurological examination is done to look for poor coordination, slow reflexes, difficulty walking, and droopy eyelids.
  • A physical examination and cardiac investigations will indicate heart problems.
  • Beriberi disease is easily managed with thiamine supplementation. Your doctor may prescribe thiamine tablets or injections.
  • The progress needs to be kept an eye on with follow-up blood investigations to see how the body is absorbing the vitamin.
  • If the disease is diagnosed in time and treated promptly, the prognosis is fairly good. Nerve and heart damage is more often than not reversible, when it has been recognized in the initial stages. Recovery is rather rapid once treatment commences.
  • In case you have developed the Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, the prognosis is poor. Treatment helps control the symptoms of Wernicke encephalopathy; however, brain impairment from Korsakoff syndrome is lasting.
  • Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet is very vital to optimal health. Discuss with your doctor if you think you are showing any signs of thiamine deficiency or in case you require guidance on how to get the correct amount of nutrients that your body needs.