What is beriberi? What causes beriberi?

Beriberi is caused by thiamine (vitamin B-1) deficiency. There are two types beriberi; wet and dry beriberi.

  • Wet beriberi: Affects the heart function
  • Dry beriberi: Affects the nervous system. This might eventually lead two muscle paralyses.

The patients are at risk, since the disease affects the major systems in the body. So, proper treatment is necessary. Untreated beriberi can lead to death. Reduce your risk of getting Beriberi by following a healthy diet rich in Vitamin B-1. Meat, dairy products, and whole grains are rich in vitamin B-1. Are you alcoholic? Your chance of developing Beriberi is high, as alcohol addiction leads to poor nutrition. High blood alcohol level affects your capacity to absorb nutrients and vitamins. Dialysis also accelerates the risk of Beriberi. There is a rare type of beriberi known as genetic beriberi, a hereditary case of beriberi. 


The symptoms of beriberi may vary depending on what type of beriberi you have; wet or dry.

Symptoms of wet beriberi:

  • Breathing difficulty
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Swelling in lower legs
  • Abrupt awakening from sleep short of breath

Symptoms of dry beriberi:

  • Walking difficulty
  • Tingling and numbness in hands and feet
  • Impaired muscle function/ paralysis
  • Difficulty with speech
  • Pain
  • Vomiting
  • Uncontrolled eye movements

Extreme case of dry beriberi may lead to Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a brain damage which results in memory loss and mental disorder.


The following medical tests determine whether you have beriberi:

  • A Blood test (to check the amount of thiamine in your blood)
  • A Urine test (to measure the level of thiamine in the urine). High concentration of thiamine in urine indicates your body’s inability to absorb thiamine.
  • A neurological examination (to check whether the patient has difficulties with walking, coordination problems, decreased reflexes and droopy eyelids)
  • A physical examination (to check the signs of heart problems)


The treatment options aim to provide the required amount of thiamine that your body lacks. Available treatment options are mentioned below:

  • Thiamine supplements. Blood test will be followed to check the patient’s response to the thiamine supplements.
  • Doctor often suggests a healthy diet with thiamine-enriched foods.  

Is there any way to prevent beriberi?

  • Eat a healthy balanced diet rich in Vitamin B-1.
  • Give up drinking alcohol.