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Beriberi (Thiamine Deficiency) Disease: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

SRL Diagnostics
In: Health

SRL Diagnostics


The meaning of Beriberi is “extreme weakness” in Sinhalese. Beriberi is a health disorder where a person lacks thiamine or vitamin B-1 in their body. Thiamine is a significant health nutrient, and its crucial deficiency can cause severe damage to the body’s nervous system and heart. In this article, we will cover the causes, symptoms, and treatment of Beriberi along with the health conditions that vitamin B-1 deficiency causes in humans.

What is Beriberi?

Beriberi is a severe and potentially life-threatening disease that develops when a person has a high level of thiamine deficiency. Thiamine or vitamin B-1 is an essential health nutrient that can be obtained from a normal diet. It can be found naturally in fish, meats, fish, pork, whole grains, etc. Thiamine has a significant role in many crucial functions of the body including,

  • Breakdown of carbohydrate
  • Producing glucose
  • Muscle contraction
  • Conduction in nerve cells
  • Making acids to help digestion

If a person has severe thiamine deficiency, it may prevent their body from performing the above important functions properly. Another significant fact is that thiamine can get depleted from the body in a very short period. For example, a person with thiamine deficiency can face the depletion of their stored thiamine in the body in just a matter of 2-3 weeks, making them vulnerable to developing Beriberi disease.

What are the types of Beriberi?

There are two types of Beriberi disease.

 Wet Beriberi: This type mainly affects the body’s cardiovascular system, and causes poor blood circulation along with fluid buildup in the tissues.

 Dry Beriberi: This type of Beriberi primarily affects the body’s nervous system. This leads to the degeneration of the nerves. Such degeneration generally begins in the patient’s legs and arms and may further cause muscle atrophy and loss of reflexes.

What are the causes of Beriberi?

The major cause of someone developing Beriberi can be either thiamine deficiency in their diet or their body being unable to process thiamine due to some poor health conditions. The Beriberi disease can be seen rarely in developed countries because their normal food itemslike bread or cereals are rich in thiamine and are enough for maintaining vitamin B-1 levels in their body.

However, people in developed countries face the disease, Beriberi, due to excessive consumption of alcohol. Reports suggest that 80% of people, who are alcoholics, have the chance of developing a thiamine deficiency. Due to the presence of alcohol in the body, it becomes very difficult for the body to process and absorb thiamine.

Babies can also develop Beriberi if they are breastfeeding and the breast milk has a poor concentration of thiamine. Also, if a baby only drinks formula without this essential supplementary vitamin, they can develop Beriberi. There is also a rare health condition found in babies called genetic Beriberi that can block their body’s ability to absorb thiamine from foods.

Below are a few other examples of people who have any of the following health conditions and are at risk of developing Beriberi:

  • Advanced age
  • Diabetes
  • HIV
  • Had undergone bariatric surgery

 What are the different Beriberi symptoms?

The symptoms of Beriberi vary depending on its type.

 The symptoms of wet Beriberi are:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Sleepwalking at night due to shortness of breath
  • Abnormal heart rate
  • Severe exhaustion or constant fatigue
  • Legs and feet swelling

The symptoms of dry Beriberi are:

  • Confusion
  • Constant body aches
  • Vomiting
  • Walking difficulty
  • Hands and feet numbness
  • Lower leg paralysis

In another extremely rare case of thiamine deficiency, the patient may develop a condition called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. It is a form of brain damage where the affected person may experience symptoms like,

  • Loss of memory loss
  • Inability to form new memories
  • Confusion
  • Loss of muscle coordination
  • Rapid eye movement
  • Involuntary eye movement
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Hallucinations

 What is the diagnosis for Beriberi disease?

To diagnose Beriberi disease, physicians prescribe the patients to get both blood and urine tests done to measure the levels of thiamine in their bloodstream. Along with that, physicians also perform a physical examination of the patients to check for signs of neurological damage or heart issues. Signs of neurological damage may include walking difficulty or problems in balancing, poor coordination, weak reflexes, etc. To find out any heart issues, physicians check the patient’s heart rate along with their breathing rate and also look for any swelling in their lower limbs that may indicate heart problems.

 What are the treatments for Beriberi?

The major treatment for Beriberi is to increase the level of thiamine in the patient’s body. Physicians recommend oral thiamine supplements or injections, based on a patient’s overall health. During treatment, physicians may also prescribe regular blood tests to monitor a patient’s thiamine levels until they are returning to normal. After achieving a normal thiamine level via treatment, a patient might need to continue taking thiamine supplements (lower dosage) or make necessary changes to their diet to maintain their blood thiamine level and make sure they won’t again develop Beriberi.

 How can I prevent myself from Beriberi?

For the prevention of Beriberi, one should consume enough vitamin B-1 in their diet. The following food itemshave natural thiamine,

  • Beans and legumes meat
  • Seeds and nuts
  • Seafood
  • Dairy products

Several food items are also available in the market that are rich in thiamine, like bread, breakfast cereals, baked goods, etc.


Someone experiencing symptoms of Beriberi should visit their physician as soon as possible. Without treatment, Beriberi can be life-threatening, as it may lead to the risk of heart failure or nervous system deterioration.

Via blood and urine tests one can measure the levels of thiamine in their blood. If someone is suspecting any symptoms of Beriberi in their body, they should consult a physician immediately and get themselves tested. For more accurate and authentic laboratory tests,, you can contact your nearest SRL Diagnostics.

SRL Diagnostics has been providing superior quality diagnostics services for a long period with a network of accredited labs (44 NABL and CAP-accredited) and a huge number of collection points. SRL offers high-quality, accurate test results at affordable prices via highly specialized technologies.

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