What is Beriberi or Thiamine Deficiency: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Home Remedies, Prognosis, Prevention

Beriberi (beri beri) or thiamine deficiency is a condition that is caused by a diet which is deficient in thiamine or Vitamin B1. Today, cases of beriberi are found mostly in people who drink heavily. Alcohol abuse can result in poor nutrition, as it makes it difficult for the body to absorb and store thiamine or vitamin B1. More about beriberi or Thiamine deficiency is discussed in the following array of the article.

What is Beriberi Or Thiamine Deficiency?

What is Beriberi Or Thiamine Deficiency?

Beriberi is caused by a thiamine or vitamin B1 deficiency and is thus also known as Thiamine deficiency. There are two types of beriberi; namely, wet beriberi and dry beriberi. The wet beriberi affects the heart and the circulatory system. It must be noted that in extreme cases, wet beriberi can also cause heart failure. Dry beriberi damages the nerves and can result in decreased muscle strength and eventually, muscle paralysis. If left untreated, beriberi can be life- threatening.

Your chances of developing beriberi are low if you have access to foods that are rich in thiamine or vitamin B1 foods. In recent times, beriberi or thiamine deficiency is caused mostly in individuals with an alcohol use disorder. However, beriberi from other causes is rare in the United States. Still the disease can be seen in women having extreme nausea and vomiting in pregnancy ( Hyperemesis gravidarum), in individuals with AIDS, and after bariatric surgery.

Causes of Beriberi Or Thiamine Deficiency:

The primary cause of beriberi or thiamine deficiency is a diet that is low in thiamine. This disease is most common in regions of the world where the diet includes, un-enriched, processed white rice; which only has a tenth of the amount of thiamine, as brown rice.

Some other factors that may cause beriberi or thiamine deficiency include;

  • Alcohol abuse, which makes it hard for the body to absorb and store thiamine.
  • Genetic beriberi or a rare condition that prevents the body from absorbing thiamine or vitamin B1.
  • Extreme nausea and vomiting during pregnancy.
  • Hyperthyroidism or overactive thyroid gland.
  • Bariatric surgery
  • Prolonged diarrhea or use of diuretics(Or Medication that makes you to urinate more)
  • AIDS
  • Undergoing kidney dialysis.

NOTE: Breastfeeding women need regular thiamine in their diet. Infants drinking breast milk or formula in thiamine are at risk of beriberi or thiamine deficiency.

Symptoms of Beriberi Or Thiamine Deficiency:

The following symptoms are experienced in case of Beriberi.

Physical Symptoms of Beriberi Or Thiamine Deficiency:

Physical symptoms of beriberi include intestinal and stomach related disorder, increased heart rate, difficulty breathing, weight loss, diarrhea and constipation, easily fatigued, apathetic and experiences difficulty while walking, impaired growth, vomiting, nausea, anorexia and abdominal pain, wasting of muscles, muscle cramps, and pain in the body parts.

Neurological Symptoms of Beriberi Or Thiamine Deficiency:

Neurological symptoms experienced by a person with beriberi or thiamine deficiency include mental confusion due to polyneuritis or inflammation of several neurons, loss in ability to sense vibrations, paralysis, nerve degeneration, and coma; which are commonly observed in chronic or severe stages of beriberi.

Diagnosis of Beriberi Or Thiamine Deficiency:

Physical Examination: A physical examination will alert your doctor to any heart problems. Rapid heartbeat, swelling of the lower legs, and difficulty breathing are some of the symptoms of beriberi or thiamine deficiency. A physical examination by your doctor will show signs of congestive heart failure, including difficulty breathing with neck veins that stick out, fluid in lungs, enlarged heart, rapid heartbeat, and swelling in both legs.

Neurological Examination: Doctors will also perform a neurological examination so as to look for lack of coordination, droopy eyelids, difficulty walking, and weak reflexes. Individuals with later stages of beriberi or thiamine deficiency experiences memory loss, confusion, or delusions.

Diagnosis Tests: You will require a series of medical tests to determine if you have beriberi or not. Bloods tests will be performed to measure the amount of thiamine in your blood, while urine test will be done to see if thiamine is passing through the urine.

If your body has trouble absorbing thiamine, you will have a low thiamine concentration in the blood and a high thiamine concentration in the urine.

Treatment of Beriberi Or Thiamine Deficiency:

Medical Treatment for Beriberi Or Thiamine Deficiency:

  • Administration Of Therapeutic Doses Of Thiamine: For treating beriberi, doctors usually prescribe thiamine shots and pills. This actually proves to be significantly advantageous, and is observed to lend relief to the patient within a short time period.
  • You usually require to takes 5-10 mg of thiamine 3 times per day. In cases of cardiac involvement, it is advisable to intravenously administer 1- mg-30 mg of thiamine diluted with glucose.
  • Apart from this, supplementation with other vitamins, a generous supply of high quality proteins from foods that are easily digested, should be given.
  • Your doctor will monitor the progress with follow-up blood tests so as to see how well your body is absorbing the thiamine or vitamin B1.

Home Remedies for Beriberi Or Thiamine Deficiency:

Except for few extreme cases, a proper diet containing more thiamine than needed must be supplied while the body is in the recovering state. This diet for beriberi or thiamine deficiency generally includes brown rice, legumes, milk, and few others. We must tell you that excess of thiamine, is never harmful to the body, as it is a water soluble vitamin that can be easily expelled. Below we will talk about some of the thiamine rich diet that could be actually work as great home remedies for beriberi or thiamine deficiency.

Brown Rice. Brown or husked rice is considered to be the best source of thiamine and an effective home remedy for Beriberi. So, you should make it as a part of your regular diet. Try to avoid polished or dehusked rice, because they lack vitamin B1 or thiamine, a healthy diet that is rich is rice, can always help you to prevent beriberi or thiamine deficiency.

Rice Bran. Rice bran is the best-known home remedy for beriberi or thiamine deficiency and has been practiced for several years. Rice is boiled in an excess of water and the water containing the rice extract is the drained and collected in a bowl. This water that is collected, is drinkable and has significant quantities of vitamin B1.

Milk. Milk is loaded with vitamins and other mineral nutrients and thus, it should be consumed on a daily basis.

Whole Grain Brown Bread. Outer layer of grains are excessively rich in thiamine or vitamin B1. Feeding individuals with thiamine-rich brown bread can also contribute to the overall vitamin content in their body.

Legumes. Most of the legumes, seeds, and nuts are rich in thiamine in their outer covering. These can be frequently used, so as to benefit in beriberi or thiamine deficiency.

Alagau. Alagau is an herb that is found only in the Phillippines and is known to be very effective home remedy in treating beriberi or thiamine deficiency disease.

Healthy Diet. Apart from all the treatments and home remedies, you need to have a balanced and proper diet that consists of raw fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. This not only helps you get vitamin B1 or thiamine, but also many other essential minerals, vitamins and nutrients.

Prevention of Beriberi Or Thiamine Deficiency:

In order to prevent beriberi or thiamine deficiency, you need to eat a healthy and properly balanced diet that includes foods loaded with thiamine or vitamin B1. Such foods include seeds, beans and legumes, fish, whole grains, dairy products, nuts, meat, vegetables like Brussels sprouts, acorn squash, and beet greens, and cereals that are enriched with thiamine.

  • It must be mentioned that cooking or processing any of the foods listed above reduces their thiamine content.
  • Make sure that if you give your infant formula milk, you should always check that it contains enough thiamine. Always ensure to purchase infant formula from a reliable source.

NOTE: Limiting alcohol consumption will reduce the risk of developing beriberi or thiamine deficiency. Anyone who abuses alcohol should be routinely checked for a Vitamin B1 or thiamine deficiency

Long Term Outlook or Prognosis For Someone With Beriberi Or Thiamine Deficiency:

The outlook or prognosis is really good if beriberi or thiamine deficiency is diagnosed and treated early. When it is caught in the early stages, nerve and heart damage from beriberi could really be reversible. Once you begin the treatment for beriberi or thiamine deficiency, recovery is often very quick.

However, it must be strictly noted that if the disease progresses to Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, the outlook is very poor. Though treatment can control the symptoms of Wernicke encephalopathy, brain damage from Karsakoff syndrome is usually permanent.


In case you suspect of having beriberi or thiamine deficiency or if you experience any such symptoms mentioned above, it is always essential for you to see your doctor, go for his prescribed diagnosis and take the treatments as advised by your doctor. It must also be noted that by following some preventive measures (as discussed above), we can keep yourselves safe from being encountered with the condition. You must maintain a healthy and balanced diet that is very much important for your health. Talk to your doctor about how to get the essential nutrients if you suspect beriberi.

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:May 3, 2019

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