Can the Ketogenic diet lead to Wernicke's encephalopathy?

Simra Javaid, Amanda Lindenberg, Rajashree Srinivasan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Wernicke's encephalopathy (WE), a neurological disorder due to the deficiency of thiamine, is often underdiagnosed in the pediatric population. The classic triad of mental status changes, oculomotor abnormality, and ataxia is observed in only 16-21% of all pediatric presentations. Wernicke's is most often associated with alcohol dependence, but also malignancy, parenteral nutrition, and gastrointestinal (GI) malformations. The correlation between following a Ketogenic diet and acquiring Wernicke's, however, has not previously been reported. CASE REPORT: A 16-year-old previously healthy male presented with an eleven-day history of neurological deficits and GI upset. The patient had recently lost one hundred pounds while following a 'ketogenic' diet. He was subsequently diagnosed with Wernicke's, received intravenous thiamine, and was transferred to the inpatient rehabilitation, where he received extensive diet education. After making significant functional improvement, he was discharged home. RELEVANCE: This case illustrates the importance of including Wernicke's in the differential diagnosis when a pediatric patient presents with neurological deficits after rapid weight loss. Wernicke's encephalopathy may be fatal in the pediatric population, therefore, it must be treated immediately if clinically suspected. Children presenting with Wernicke's would benefit from early intervention, intensive inpatient rehabilitation, and comprehensive education regarding the role of food and exercise on weight loss and health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)335-340
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2022


  • Ketogenic diet
  • pediatric
  • rehabilitation
  • Wernicke's
  • Wernicke's encephalopathy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Rehabilitation


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