What is Beriberi?

It is a nutritional deficiency disease mainly characterized by low levels of a vitamin B-1 or thiamine in the body cells. Therefore, it is also called as the Thiamine deficiency disorder. Beriberi may be a life-threatening nutritional deficiency disease if it is left untreated.

Let us have a detailed look at the different types, symptoms, causes and treatment of beriberi.

Types of Beriberi

There are two different types of Beriberi disease:

  • Wet beriberi – This disorder usually affects the heart and other organs of the circulatory system. In extreme cases, this may also lead to a heart attack and other heart disorders.

  • Dry beriberi – This disorder disturbs the functioning of the nerves of the nervous system and leads to damage or decreased muscle strength, which eventually results in paralysis of muscles.

Food rich in thiamine reduces the risk of being affected with beriberi. The disease can be seen in women with extreme nausea, vomiting in pregnancy, people suffering from AIDS, etc.

Symptoms of Beriberi

Following are the important symptoms of beriberi:

Symptoms of wet beriberi 

  • Increased heart rate

  • Swelling of the lower legs

  • Shortness of breath with activity

  • MOTN – Middle-of-the-night insomnia

Symptoms of dry beriberi

  • Pain

  • Tingling

  • Vomiting

  • Confusions

  • Difficulty in walking

  • Strange eye movements

  • Difficulties in speech

  • Loss of sensation in hands and feet

  • Loss of muscle functioning or paralysis of the lower limbs.

Beriberi is also associated with Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. This is a form of brain damage caused due to thiamine deficiency.

Wernicke encephalopathy causes damage to the thalamus and hypothalamus of the brain. This causes symptoms such as:

  • confusion

  • loss of memory

  • muscle coordination loss

  • problems in vision

Korsakoff syndrome damages the memory-forming region of the brain. This leads to symptoms such as:

  • memory loss

  • hallucinations

  • problems in forming new memories

Causes of Beriberi

Beriberi is a very rare disease, which is caused by the nutritional deficiency of vitamin B1 or thiamine. According to recent research, this disorder is very rare in the United States. This is because all the food is vitamin enriched nowadays.

Beriberi is also seen in most of the people who are alcohol abuse, as alcohol leads to poor nutrition and weakens the body cells to absorb and store vitamin B1 from the food we eat.

In very rare cases, beriberi can also be a genetic disorder, transmitted from the mother to their infants during breastfeeding only in those case if the mother’s body is in lack of thiamine.

The infants who are breastfed by a mother suffering from Vitamin B1 deficiency also suffer from this disease. Also, dialysis and heavy doses of water pills increase the risk of beriberi.

Diagnosis of Beriberi

There are a series of physical examination and other medical tests used to determine whether a person is suffering from beriberi. The test includes:

  • Certain breathing and lung functioning tests.

  • Blood and urine tests to check the levels of thiamine in the blood cells.

  • A physical examination of the legs to find if any swelling in both the lower legs.

  • Examination of the heart to check the variations in the heartbeat and the enlargement of the heart.

  • Neurological examination to check for the changes in the walking, coordination problems, decreased reflexes, etc.

Treatment of Beriberi

The treatment of Beriberi is very natural. This disorder can be cured by replacing the thiamine level in the blood cells by increasing the daily intake of vitamins in the diet. Patients are treated with the Thiamine supplements, which are given orally or through a shot (injection). Along with the diet and medications, patients are also advised with follow-up blood tests to monitor how well the body is absorbing the vitamin.

Prevention of beriberi

To prevent beriberi, maintaining a healthy and balanced diet is important. Include foods rich in thiamine and if a patient is alcohol abuse, then limiting alcohol consumption or completely stop or quit will reduce your risk of developing beriberi.

Foods that are rich in vitamin B1 or thiamine are – beans, cereals, milk and milk products, eggs, fish, legumes, meat, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and certain vegetables, including acorn, asparagus, beet greens, brussels sprouts, green leafy vegetables, squash, and tomatoes.

Key Points of Beriberi

  • Beriberi is caused by the deficiency of Vitamin B1.
  • Beriberi is of two types – wet beriberi and dry beriberi.
  • Wet beriberi affects the organs of the circulatory system, while dry beriberi affects the nervous system and decreases muscle strength.
  • People with alcohol abuse, hyperthyroidism, AIDS, bariatric surgery, and people undergoing kidney dialysis are more at risk of thiamine deficiency.
  • This can also be transmitted from the mother to the baby during breastfeeding.
  • A balanced diet is essential to prevent beriberi.

This was the brief introduction to Beriberi disease. For more additional information about this deficiency disorder, vitamins, and nutrients check the links given below.

Vitamins And Minerals Deficiency Diseases
Nutrition In Human Beings Vitamins – Types, Sources & Significance
Quiz of the Day!


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