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Beriberi Information

Beriberi is a nervous system ailment, caused by a lack of thiamine. It is common in people whose diet consists mainly of polished white rice and in chronic alcoholics with impaired liver function; it is also a known potential side effect of gastric bypass surgery. Good dietary sources of thiamin are whole grains, lean pork, and legumes. Thiamin is not present in fats, oils, and refined sugars and is destroyed by heat, pasteurization, and ionizing radiation. It can damage the heart and nervous system. As the disease progresses, patients develop burning sensations, tingling in the extremities, and changes in sensation such as numbness. Patients may develop mental confusion and psychosis. In advanced cases, the disease may cause heart failure and death. There are two major manifestations of thiamine deficiency: cardiovascular disease (wet beriberi) and nervous system disease ("dry beriberi" and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome). Both types are most often caused by excessive alcohol consumption. The symptoms of beriberi are weakness and loss of feeling in the feet and legs, swelling of the lower half of the body. Developing countries are known to have more vitamin deficiency problems in general, but no accurate statistics for thiamine deficiency are available. Beriberi has become very rare in the United States because most foods are now vitamin-enriched, which means that a normal diet contains adequate amounts of thiamine.

Beriberi can also occur in breast-fed infants when the mother has an inadequate intake of thiamine. It can also affect infants fed unusual formulas with inadequate thiamine supplements. No age predilection exists. Infantile beriberi occurs in infants aged 2-4 months who are fed only breast milk and whose mothers are thiamine deficient. Neurologic symptoms are caused by degeneration of the nerve fibers and their insulation ( myelin sheath). The name "beriberi" originated in Southeast Asia, where it had become widespread with the colonial introduction of machine milling of rice. Others at risk for beriberi include patients undergoing dialysis, patients receiving high doses of diuretics. Because alcoholism affects more males than females, rates of beriberi in developed countries are higher among males. The syndrome of symptoms caused by thiamine deficiency in alcoholism is called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Most of the symptoms will disappear and the improvements can be rather rapid. This disease can be quickly fatal or can slowly rob an individual of almost all energy for even the simplest of daily activities. However, it is one of the most easily treatable conditions, with remarkable recoveries possible even in severe cases. When beriberi is suspected, blood tests will be performed to confirm the lack of thiamine. Treatment will then involve replacing the lost thiamine with either injections or oral supplements.

Causes of Beriberi

The common causes and risk factor's of Beriberi include the following:

  • A lack of thiamine.
  • If a baby consumes the milk of a mother who suffers from thiamine deficiency, the child may develop beriberi.
  • Malnutrition.
  • Food high in anti–thiamine factor, such as tea, coffee, betel nuts.
  • Pregnancy.
  • Alcoholism.
  • Dialysis and high doses of diuretics raise your risk of beriberi.

Symptoms of Beriberi

Some sign and symptoms related to Beriberi are as follows:

  • Poor mental concentration.
  • Restlessness.
  • Decreased appetite.
  • Numbness in the extremities.
  • Vomiting.
  • Unusual behavior.
  • Strange eye movements (nystagmus).
  • Fast heart rate.
  • Swollen feet and legs.

Treatment of Beriberi

Here is list of the methods for treating Beriberi:

  • When a patient has serious symptoms of thiamine deficiency, supplementation is usually started by giving thiamine through an IV or by intramuscular shots.
  • Blood tests may be done after the person is given thiamine supplements to see how well they are responding to the medicine.
  • Neurologic and psychiatric consultations are often necessary.
  • However, with severe deficiency, some symptoms may be irreversible patients should also receive therapeutic doses of other water-soluble vitamins.
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