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Beriberi Causes

Beriberi is caused by a lack of vitamin B1, thiamine. It is common in people whose diet is comprised mainly of polished white rice, which has very low thiamine content because the thiamine-rich husk has been removed. It is also seen in chronic alcoholics with inadequate diets, as well as being an uncommon side effect of gastric bypass surgery. If an infant is mainly fed on the milk of a mother who is suffering from thiamine deficiency then that child may develop beriberi. The disease has been traditionally found in people from Asian countries (especially in the 19th century and before), because of those countries' reliance on white rice as a staple food. Beriberi is a nutritional disorder that is caused by deficiency of vitamin B and characterized by damage to nerves and heart; general symptoms include loss of appetite and feeling of lethargy.

Beriberi Definition

Beriberi is an ailment affecting the nervous system. It is caused by a deficiency in thiamine (vitamin B1). The etymology of the word is from a Sinhalese phrase meaning literally, "I cannot, I cannot", the word being repeated for emphasis.

Beriberi Symptoms and Signs

The symptoms of beriberi include weight loss, impaired sensory perception (or Wernicke's encephalopathy), emotional disturbances, weakness and pain in the limbs, and periods of irregular heart rate. Edema (or the swelling of bodily tissues) is common. In advanced cases of beriberi, the disease may cause heart failure leading to death. It may also increase the amount of pyruvic and lactic acids in the patient's blood. Two forms of the disease are wet beriberi and dry beriberi. Wet beriberi targets the heart and is sometimes fatal, as it causes a combination of heart failure and weakening of the capillary walls, which then leads to the peripheral tissues becoming edematous. Dry beriberi, on the other hand, causes wasting and partial paralysis of the muscles, resulting from peripheral nerves getting damaged. It is also known as endemic neuritis.

Beriberi Treatment

Treatment of beriberi is with thiamine hydrochloride, either in injection or tablet form. A fast and dramatic recovery within hours can be made when this is administered to patients with the disease, and their health can be transformed within an hour of administration of the treatment. Thiamine occurs naturally in unrefined cereals and fresh foods, particularly fresh meat, beans, green leafy vegetables, fruits, and dairy products. A high-protein diet, with adequate caloric intake, supplemented by B-complex vitamins for early symptoms is a good treatment for beriberi Thiamine-rich foods include pork, peas, wheat bran (cereals), oatmeal, and liver. Beriberi caused by alcoholism may require thiamine supplements or thiamine hydrochloride as part of a B-complex concentrate.

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