Korsakoff Syndrome

Talk to your doctor if you or someone close to you has symptoms of Korsakoff Syndrome.

Korsakoff syndrome is a chronic memory disorder caused by a severe thiamine deficiency (Vitamin B1). When the level of thiamine becomes very low, brain cells do not have enough energy to function correctly.

Korsakoff syndrome causes difficulty with:

  • learning new information
  • remembering recent events
  • long-term memory

The most common cause is chronic alcohol abuse. It can also be caused by:

  • uncontrolled vomiting
  • anorexia
  • fasting, starvation or weight-loss surgery
  • AIDS
  • kidney dialysis
  • cancer chemotherapy
  • chronic infections
  • poor nutrition


  • Inability to learn new information
  • Inability to remember recent events
  • Long-term memory gaps

Memory challenges can be the most prominent symptom, while other thinking and social skills might remain unaffected. For example, individuals may be able to carry on a conversation but moments later have difficulty recalling the conversation.


Individuals with Korsakoff syndrome may create false memories to compensate for gaps in their memory. This is not intentional lying, as the person may believe these fabricated events to be true. This tendency is more prevalent during the initial phases of the illness.

Korsakoff syndrome and Wernicke encephalopathy

The occurrence of Korsakoff syndrome is associated with or followed by an episode of Wernicke encephalopathy, which is considered a medical emergency due to its acute effect on the brain caused by a deficiency in thiamine. Wernicke encephalopathy can result in life-threatening brain dysfunction, confusion, lack of coordination, staggering and stumbling, and involuntary eye movements. When Wernicke encephalopathy is followed by Korsakoff syndrome, it is referred to as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Korsakoff syndrome can also develop in individuals who have not experienced Wernicke encephalopathy before.