Background Wernicke encephalopathy can have different clinical outcomes. Although infections may precipitate the encephalopathy itself, it is unknown whether infections also modify the long-term outcome in patients developing Korsakoff syndrome. Objective To determine whether markers of infection, such as white blood cell (WBC) counts and absolute neutrophil counts in the Wernicke phase, are associated with cognitive outcomes in the end-stage Korsakoff syndrome. Method Retrospective, descriptive study of patients admitted to Slingedael Korsakoff Center, Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Hospital discharge letters of patients with Wernicke encephalopathy were searched for relevant data on infections present upon hospital admission. Patients were selected for further analysis if data were available on WBC counts in the Wernicke phase and at least 1 of 6 predefined neuropsychological tests on follow-up. Results Infections were reported in 35 of 68 patients during the acute phase of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome—meningitis (1), pneumonia (14), urinary tract infections (9), acute abdominal infections (4), sepsis (5) empyema, (1) and infection “of unknown origin” (4). The neuropsychological test results showed significant lower scores on the Cambridge Cognitive Examination nonmemory section with increasing white blood cell counts (Spearman rank correlation, ρ = −0.34; 95% CI: −0.57 to −0.06; 44 patients) and on the “key search test” of the behavioral assessment of the dysexecutive syndrome with increasing absolute neutrophil counts (ρ= −0.85; 95% CI: −0.97 to −0.42; 9 patients). Conclusions Infections may be the presenting manifestation of thiamine deficiency. Patients with Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome who suffered from an infection during the acute phase are at risk of worse neuropsychological outcomes on follow-up.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)624-633
Number of pages10
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2016


  • Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome
  • critical illness
  • executive function
  • infection
  • memory disorders
  • thiamine deficiency


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