Beri-beri: Causes, Types, Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

Beri-beri is a severe form of thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency. The condition primarily affects and disrupts functions of the heart, nervous system and gastrointestinal tract.

Consuming thiamine rich foods lowers your chances of Beri-beri. Well that’s not the case for everyone, especially those living in lesser developed areas who have hard time getting a balanced diet or vitamin rich foods.




Beri-beri results from inadequate intake of thiamine. It is very common among people in sub-saharan Africa.

The deficiency has been greatly linked to reliance on highly refined carbohydrates.





There are four distinct forms of Beri-beri;

  • Dry beri-beri affects the peripheral nervous system.
  • Wet beri-beri mainly affects the cardiovascular system.
  • Infantile beri-beri affecting babies of malnourished mothers.
  • Gastrointestinal beri-beri which affects the digestive system and other body systems.





The symptoms of Beri-beri varies according to the type. They are;


Dry beri-beri

  • Pain Vomiting.
  • Mental confusion.
  • Difficulty speeching.
  • Involuntary eye movements.
  • Tingling or loss of sensation in hands and feet.
  • Loss of muscle function in the lower limbs.
  • Paralysis.


Dry beri-beri is associated with Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, two forms of brain damage due to thiamine deficiency.

Wernicke encephalopathy damages the thalamus and hypothalamus, and may cause;

  • Confusion. 
  • Memory loss.
  • Loss of muscle coordination.
  • Rapid eye movement.
  • Blurred vision.


Korsakoff syndrome result from lasting damage to the memory centers of the brain, it causes;

  • Hallucinations.
  • Memory loss.
  • Inability to form new memories.


Wet Beri-beri 

  • Shortness of breath.
  • Rapid heart rate.
  • Swollen lower legs.


Gastrointestinal beri-beri

  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Lactic acidosis.


Infantile beri-beri 

Symptoms occurs between 2 to 6 months of age and may present either as wet or dry beri-beri.

  • Diarrhea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Weight loss.
  • Pale skin.
  • Rapid heart rate.
  • Nerve paralysis.
  • Convulsions.



 Risk groups 

  • Chronic alcoholism.
  • AIDS.
  • Hypothyroidism.
  • Extreme nausea and vomiting during pregnancy.
  • Infants consuming foods or breast milk low in thiamine.
  • People with diarrhea for too long.
  • Bariatric surgery.
  • People undergoing kidney dialysis.
  • Prolonged use of diuretics.





A series of blood test will be needed to tell whether or not you have beriberi. Blood and Urine test are used to measure the level of thiamine in your body. Your physician will look out for any of the symptoms suggestive of Beri-beri. 

Also, your physician will perform a detailed physical, cardiovascular and neurological examinations to determine the extent, severity and best possible treatment module.




Vitamin B1 (thiamine) is the main form of treatment of Beri-beri (thiamine deficiency). Thiamine can either be consumed in rich dietary sources or as supplements.

A licensed physician will determine the best form of treatment. Thiamine is available orally & intravenously.

Improvement may occur within 24 hours of treatment.






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