Study: Obesity Surgery May Trigger Nervous System Disorder

Researchers have discovered a potential link between weight-loss surgery and a vitamin deficiency that can have serious consequences on the brain and nervous system. According to a study published in the journal Neurology, procedures such as gastric bypass surgery may cause patients to suffer a deficiency of vitamin B1 (thiamine), which can lead to a syndrome called Wernicke encephalopathy.

Wernicke encephalopathy can lead to memory loss and confusion, poor coordination, and vision problems. Patients who are prone to excessive vomiting following the surgery are most susceptible to the condition, which usually occurs between one and three months after the procedure. Researchers reviewed the cases of 32 patients who suffered the ailment following obesity surgery and found that many of them also suffered from atypical symptoms such as seizures, deafness, psychosis, muscle weakness, and pain or numbness in the feet or hands.

“When people who have had weight-loss surgery start experiencing any of these symptoms, they need to see a doctor right away,” said study author Dr. Sonal Singh of the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “Doctors should consider vitamin B1 deficiency and Wernicke encephalopathy when they see patients with these types of neurological complications after weight-loss surgery. If treated promptly, the outlook is usually good.”

Singh recommends that all doctors who perform this type of surgery start their patients on a preventive regimen of thiamine supplements to defend against the syndrome. Wernicke encephalopathy is most commonly caused by severe alcoholism. However, the risk of the syndrome is present whenever a thiamine deficiency is coupled with the continued intake of glucose. The authors of the study did not ascertain the frequency of the syndrome following weight-loss surgery, but noted that the potential severity of the condition should make doctors and patients more aware of potential complications.

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