Background: Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome is a neuropsychiatric disorder caused by thiamine deficiency composed of two related disorders accounting for an acute presentation and chronic progression. Hyperemesis gravidarum presents a significant risk factor for Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome as symptoms may rapidly progress in the setting of pregnancy. We present the first-reported case of hyperemesis-gravidarum-associated Wernicke encephalopathy in a patient in the first half of pregnancy in which a missed diagnosis led to septic shock, fetal demise, and eventual profound Korsakoff syndrome.
Case Presentation: We present the case of a 33-year-old primigravid African American woman at 15 weeks gestational age who initially presented at a community emergency department with nausea and vomiting that ultimately progressed to severe hyperemesis-gravidarum-associated Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome, fetal demise, and septic shock. The patient received a total of 6 weeks of high-dose parenteral thiamine. Magnetic resonance imaging of the head and formal neuropsychological assessment following treatment plateau confirmed the diagnosis of Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome.
Conclusions: The multisystem complications seen in severe thiamine deficiency can delay timely administration of high-dose thiamine, particularly in pregnancy, in which the classic triad of Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome may not raise clinical suspicion due to rapid progression of neurological sequelae in this population. We advise a low threshold for parenteral thiamine repletion in pregnant women with persistent vomiting as hyperemesis gravidarum-induced severe thiamine deficiency can result in Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome, sepsis, and fetal demise.
Olmsted, Alisa; DeSimone, Andrea; Lopez-Pastrana, Jahaira; and Becker, Madeleine, "Fetal Demise and Wernicke–Korsakoff Syndrome in a Patient with Hyperemesis Gravidarum: A Case Report" (2023). Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior Faculty Papers. Paper 72.
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