What is the disease beriberi?

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Beriberi, also called as Thiamine Deficiency, is a condition caused due to inadequate Vitamin B1 supply to the body. If Vitamin B1 deficiency in the body is severe, it can lead to abnormalities in the brain, heart and nerves. If a person with chronic deficiency of Vitamin B1 binges alcohol then abnormalities in the brain could worsen. In some regions people do not have access to food rich in vitamins like breads and breakfast cereals; this could lead to Beriberi.

Beriberi is of two types, dry Beriberi and wet Beriberi. The circulatory system and heart is affected by wet Beriberi and can cause heart failure in extreme cases. Nerves get damaged by dry Beriberi disease and leads to paralysis in muscles and decrease in muscle strength, eventually.

Chances of developing Beriberi are lower in people consuming thiamine rich foods. The disease commonly occurs in people with alcohol use disorder. People after bariatric surgery, people suffering from AIDS and women having extreme vomiting and nausea during pregnancy could suffer from Beriberi.

Beriberi is associated with two forms of brain damage namely Korsakoff syndrome and Wernicke encephalopathy, which is caused by thiamine deficiency. The condition causes loss of coordination of muscles, loss of memory, confusion and double vision and rapid eye movement.

Depending upon the type of Beriberi, the symptoms may vary with possible paralysis, tingling and numbness in feet and hands, problem while breathing and speaking, loss of memory, depression and confusion. If Beriberi is not treated with Vitamin B1 in adequate supply, it could cause dementia and even death.

Diagnosis is done by the doctor by series of medical tests, urine and blood tests, neurological and physical examination.

Beriberi treatment includes administering thiamine supplements, thiamine pills, thiamine shorts or intravenous thiamine. Follow up of blood tests is done to monitor the progress and to check absorption level of vitamin B.

Eating a balanced and healthy diet rich in thiamine like nuts, legumes, fish, beans, meat, seeds, dairy products, whole grains, beet greens, Brussels sprouts, asparagus and spinach can help prevent Beriberi.