What is Beriberi?
Beriberi is a condition that develops when a person has a severe thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency. Thiamine is a vitamin that humans obtain from their diet. The nutrient has multiple roles in the human body—some of the functions of the nutrient includes.
- To breakdown carbohydrates
- To help in muscle contraction
- To assist in creating glucose
- To help in conductions in nerve cells
- This condition can easily become life-threatening as the human body needs thiamine to function properly.
There are two forms of beriberi:
Wet beriberi: This affects the cardiovascular system that results in poor blood circulation as well as fluid buildup in the tissues.
Dry beriberi: This affects the nervous system that develops into the degeneration of the nerves. This usually begins in the legs or arms and then can develop into muscle atrophy and loss of reflexes.
The symptoms of beriberi varies from person to person. Some common symptoms of wet beri beri include:
- An increased heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Swelling of the legs and feet
- Low levels of energy
Some symptoms of dry beri beri include:
- Lack of appetite
- Difficulty in walking
- Body aches and pains
- Numbness in your hands as well as feet
Beri beri can often develop into Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Some symptoms of the Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome include:
- Memory loss
- General confusion
- Rapid eye movement
- Blurred vision or double vision
- Loss of muscle coordination
The main cause of beriberi is low levels of thiamine in the body. There could also be the case that the body is not being able to process the thiamine in the body, which can lead to the development of beriberi.
Beriberi is mostly seen in countries where people have unwholesome diets. In most countries where people do have a balanced diet, beriberi is seen in people who have an alcohol consumption issue. This is mostly due to the fact that alcohol consumption can cause the body to be unable to process thiamine. The disease can be seen in women who have extreme nausea and vomiting in pregnancy (hyperemesis gravidarum), during lactation when the dietary requirement of thiamine is high, in people with AIDS, and after bariatric surgery.
Beriberi is not a genetic condition, and there are very rare cases of that happening. There is something known as genetic beri beri which is hereditary, but this is a very rare occurrence.
The best treatment for beriberi is to increase the body’s thiamine levels. This is done either by supplements or injections. When the case is not too severe, then supplements are given to the patient to raise their thiamine levels gradually. But when the patient has gone too far then the thiamine levels can be increased by providing the patient thiamine via injections.
During the treatment, regular blood tests are also requested to check the patient’s thiamine levels. Changes in the patient’s diet are also requested by the doctors. Once the patient has reached the right thiamine levels, the dosage is reduced, but the medication is still kept going.
Treatment is also done quickly as beriberi can easily affect the heart as well as the nervous system. This damage is reversible, but if not given treatment on time, there could be complications that can easily affect the patient in dire ways.