Thiamine absorption in alcoholic delirium patients

E Holzbach
Journal of Studies on Alcohol 1996, 57 (6): 581-4

OBJECTIVE: The role of a deficiency of vitamin B1 in the development of alcoholic complaints is confined to the case of the Wernicke-Korsakov syndrome. Findings concerning a deficiency of thiamine in alcoholics in comparison with normal persons are contradictory and there are no differentiated tests in the case of delirium tremens. In this study the vitamin B1 absorption in patients with delirium tremens was of interest in connection with the presence or absence of hallucinations and autonomic symptoms.

METHOD: Male patients (N = 70) with delirium tremens were compared with a group of 13 controls. The controls and patients were hospitalized in order to ensure abstinence from alcohol. The examination of the delirium patients was carried out with their consent after termination of the delirium tremens and again on discontinuance of drug therapy. In the case of 33 delirium patients the absorption of thiamine was tested again 4 weeks after the first examination.

RESULTS: The absorption of vitamin B1 was in general only minimally lower in the case of the delirium patients in comparison with the nonalcoholics. The results showed, however, a considerably greater range of scattering of vitamin B1 absorption in the delirium patients. The absorption conditions showed marked improvement in the 4 weeks after delirium. The extent of absorption of vitamin B1 showed no influence on the duration of delirium. The patients with visual hallucinations, however, showed lower thiamine absorption than patients without such symptoms, whereas no dependence of autonomic symptoms on vitamin B1 absorption was seen.

CONCLUSIONS: The disturbed absorption conditions in the delirium patients were obvious at the time of the examination as demonstrated by the wide range of absorption values. Improvement or near normal conditions were registered 4 weeks after the delirium. The absorption conditions had possibly already improved during the few days of alcohol abstinence in the course of the delirium treatment. The reduced vitamin B1 absorption of patients suffering from visual hallucination corresponds to observations of alcoholic hallucinosis.

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