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Thiamine Deficiency Causes and Symptoms

Causes of Thiamine Deficiency

There are various factors which may affect one’s thiamine supplies in the body. Deficiencies are often resulted from low thiamine intake, accelerated destruction of thiamine diphosphate, impaired uptake and storage of thiamine, and varying degrees of energy usage.

Inadequate dietary intake of thiamine. Food sources of thiamine include milled rice, ferns, shellfish, freshwater fishes, coffee, betel nuts and tea. 

Chronic alcoholism can significantly reduce thiamine stores in the body. Alcohol itself is a neurotoxin and its effects on the body, particularly the brain tissues are detrimental. Individuals suffering from chronic alcoholism should be given routine parenteral thiamine when presented to a medical facility.

Dialysis may also drain your thiamine reserves. The same is true with activities that require high energy consumption such as pregnancy, lactation, hyperthyroidism, severe illnesses and increased physical exercise.

Individuals with a history of gastric bypass may also suffer from beriberi. The deficiency is commonly observed during the first 6 months after surgery where a patient undergoes rapid weight loss.

Other causes include diarrhea, diuretic therapies, peritoneal dialysis, hemodialysis and hyperemesis gravidarum.

Signs and Symptoms

People with thiamine deficiency usually do not manifest any signs and symptoms. That is why it is necessary to suspect it in a clinical setting. Early signs and symptoms are often nonspecific which may include neurological, cardiovascular and gastroenterological presentations:

Neurological Symptoms


Poor memory

Sleep disturbances

Korsakoff syndrome

Wernicke’s encephalopathy

Muscle cramps and muscle atrophy

Foot drop

Absence of deep tendon reflex

Cardiovascular Symptoms

Chest pain


Wide pulse pressure


Warm skin due to vasodilation

Orthopnea with or without edema

Heart failure

Gastroenterologic Symptoms


Abdominal discomfort



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