Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome


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1849 – Swedish physician Magnus Huss published a series of case descriptions under the title Alcoholismus chronicus. Huss tried to show that various types of symptoms could be distinguished: neural symptoms, in particular sensory-motor symptoms, and psychic disturbances. Among the psychic disturbances, he mentioned depression, mania, dementia, and severe amnesia. Moreover, he noted physical symptoms beyond the nervous system: vascular system pathology and stomach, liver, and heart disorders. Huss coined the word alcoholism.

1868 – Sir Samuel Wilks of Guy’s Hospital provided an account of the characteristic mental symptoms in alcoholic paraplegia.


1881 – Wernicke described 3 patients, 2 men with alcoholism and a woman with persistent vomiting after drinking sulphuric acid. They exhibited an illness marked by a triad of acute mental confusion, ataxia and ophthalmoplegia, the bedrock of the defining criteria. The patients died and autopsies showed punctate haemorrhages of the grey matter around the third and fourth ventricles and aqueduct, which he called ‘polioencephalitis haemorrhagica superioris’

1887 – Korsakoff

1897 – The German psychiatrist and neurologist Friedrich Jolly (1844–1904) proposed the disease described by Korsakov be called Morbus Korsakov (Корсаковой болезнью), and later as Korsakoff psychosis.

1930’s – thiamine introduced as cause

Associated Persons

Alternative names

  • Polioencephalitis haemorrhagica superioris
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the names behind the name

BA MA (Oxon) MBChB (Edin) FACEM FFSEM. Emergency physician, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.  Passion for rugby; medical history; medical education; and asynchronous learning #FOAMed evangelist. Co-founder and CTO of Life in the Fast lane | Eponyms | Books | Twitter |

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