What is beriberi?

Beriberi is a disease caused by a lack of vitamin B1 (thiamine) in the body. Although beriberi can occur in anyone who is poorly nourished, it is very rare in the United States due to the addition of vitamins to many of the foods we eat.

The most common cause of beriberi in the United States is alcoholism. Heavy alcohol use can inhibit the body’s ability to absorb thiamine, leading to a deficiency. Rarely, beriberi can be inherited. Inherited beriberi creates a dysfunction in a person’s ability to take up and use thiamine. Beriberi can also sometimes be found in nursing infants whose mothers’ diets are inadequate in thiamine and in formula-fed infants whose formula is inadequate in thiamine.

Beriberi generally affects the cardiovascular system (known as wet beriberi) or the nervous system (known as dry beriberi). Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is a brain disorder caused by thiamine deficiency that results in a number of neurologic symptoms and can lead to psychosis, confusion and hallucinations.

While many of the symptoms of beriberi are reversible if treated promptly, delayed treatment may result in permanent complications and may become life threatening.

Beriberi, as are other vitamin deficiencies, is a serious condition that should be treated promptly. Delayed treatment of beriberi may result in permanent complications or death. If you exhibit symptoms of beriberi, or feel that your diet may be providing inadequate amounts of thiamine, seek prompt medical care.


What are the symptoms of beriberi?

Symptoms of beriberi will vary depending on the system that is affected (cardiovascular or nervous system). Many of the symptoms of beriberi are reversible if prompt medical attention and treatment are sought.

Common symptoms of dry beriberi

You may experience symptoms of dry beriberi daily or just once in a while. At times any of these symptoms can be severe:

Read more about beriberisymptoms


What causes beriberi?

Beriberi is caused by a lack of thiamine in the body. This lack of thiamine can be due to a lack of thiamine intake into the body or to an inability of the body to use the thiamine. Because many foods in developed countries are supplemented with vitamins, a lack of thiamine intake sufficient to cause beriberi is very rare in the United States. Rather, beriberi is more commonly caused by the bod... Read more about beribericauses


How is beriberi treated?

Treatment for beriberi should be supervised by a health care professional. The basic treatment for beriberi is to bring thiamine levels in the body back to within normal range. This is accomplished through the administration of oral or injectable thiamine supplements. Additional vitamin supplements may also be recommended. If beriberi is treated promptly, most symptoms of the disease will be re... Read more about beriberitreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 23, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Brain and Nerves