Beriberi : Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

Alternate Names : Thiamine deficiency, Vitamin B1 deficiency

Definition

Beriberi is a disease in which the body does not have enough thiamine (vitamin B1).

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

There are two major types of beriberi:

  • Wet beriberi affects the cardiovascular system.
  • Dry beriberi and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome affect the nervous system.

Beriberi is rare in the United States because most foods are now vitamin-enriched. If you eat a normal, healthy diet you should get enough thiamine. Today, beriberi occurs mostly in patients who abuse alcohol. Drinking heavily can lead to poor nutrition, and excess alcohol makes it harder for the body to absorb and store thiamine.

A rare condition known as genetic beriberi is inherited (passed down through families). People with genetic beriberi lose the ability to absorb thiamine from foods. This can happen slowly over time and symptoms occur when the person is an adult. However, because doctors may not consider beriberi in non-alcoholics, this diagnosis is often missed.

Beriberi can occur in breast-fed infants when the mother’s body is lacking in thiamine. The condition can also affect infants who are fed unusual formulas that don’t have enough thiamine.

Getting dialysis and taking high doses of diuretics raise your risk of beriberi.


Review Date : 7/12/2008
Reviewed By : Linda Vorvick, MD, Seattle Site Coordinator, Lecturer, Pathophysiology, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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