What is the prevalence of Wernicke encephalopathy (WE) in the US?

Updated: Nov 20, 2018
  • Author: Philip N Salen, MD; Chief Editor: Andrew K Chang, MD, MS  more...
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Autopsy studies indicate that WE is frequently undiagnosed during life. [1]  Specifically, autopsy series identifying typical brainstem lesions of WE have placed the incidence of the condition between 0.8% and 2.8% of the general population. However, the incidence can be as high as 12.5% in a population of alcoholics. [9] WE has been described in many other situations where nutrition has been compromised. These cases include patients with AIDS, individuals receiving hemodialysis, persons with hyperemesis gravidarum, and patients with malignancy with or without chemotherapy.

The overall prevalence of WE averages approximately 2%, although this figure is variable and may be decreasing secondary to nutritional supplements in processed foods. [5]

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