J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 42:226-231 doi:10.1136/jnnp.42.3.226
  • Research Article

Wernicke's encephalopathy: a more common disease than realised. A neuropathological study of 51 cases.


During a four year peirod, 51 cases of Wernicke's encephalopathy were diagnosed at necropsy, an incidence of 1.7% of all necropsies performed at the Royal Perth Hospital and by the Perth City coroner. Only seven had been diagnosed during life. Many of the patients died suddenly and unexpectedly, apparently as a result of haemorrhagic brainstem lesions, typical of acute Wernicke's encephalopathy, since no other cause of death was found. There was a high incidence of epilepsy and four patients were hypothermic. The diagnosis of Wernicke's encephalopathy may be missed at necropsy unless the brain is examined histologically. Cerebral atrophy and ventricular dilatation were common findings. This is a more common disease than is generally recognised, one which can be readily treated and, more importantly, prevented by adequate nutrition.