Beri Beri – It’s Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

What is Beri Beri?

Beriberi is a vitamin deficiency disease in which the body does not have enough thiamine (vitamin B1). Beriberi literally means “I can’t, I can’t” in Singhalese, which reflects the crippling effect it has on its victims. Thiamine serves as a coenzyme in the chemical pathway responsible for the metabolism of carbohydrates. Persons may become deficient in thiamine either by not ingesting enough vitamin B-1 through the diet or by excess use, which may occur in hyperthyroidism, pregnancy, lactation, or fever. Prolonged diarrhea may impair the body’s ability to absorb vitamin B-1, and severe liver disease impairs its use. Swelling of bodily tissues ( edema ) is common.

Causes of beriberi are:

Not many vitamin-deficiency disorders occur in the U.S. any more. For all the faults in the American diet, most people escape such disorders as scurvy, rickets and beriberi. Beriberi is the disorder caused by a lack of thiamine or Vitamin B1, in the diet. This vitamin helps convert carbohydrates into energy and aids in heart, muscle and nervous function.

Beriberi has probably been around for millennia, but has only been given a name in the past few hundred years. The name is Sinhalese for “I cannot, I cannot,” probably referring to the fatigue and lassitude often experienced by those with the disorder. Two Dutch physicians, Bontius and Nicolaas Tulp, wrote the first clinical descriptions of the disease in 1642. However, it was 200 or more years later that the disorder was recognized as related to diet.

Symptoms of Beriberi:

Early features:
Fatigue and apathy
Drowsiness, depression poor concentration
Anorexia, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain

Later features:

Paraesthesia, peripheral neuropathy, depressed tendon reflexes, loss of vibration sense
Tender leg muscles and muscle cramps
Congestive heart failure with dyspnoea, orthopnoea and oedema

Some other symptoms of beriberi are:

Appetite loss
Muscle aches
Limb pains
Swollen joints
Hand paralysis
Foot paralysis
Heart problems

Treatment of beri beri:

Medical Care: Monitor patients with cardiac failure in an intensive care unit. Because beriberi often presents with other B-complex deficiencies, administer all other vitamins of the B complex.


Cardiologic evaluation with 2-dimensional echocardiography is necessary.
Essential for diagnosis and management of beriberi

Documents congestive heart failure (CHF) and the poor ventricular function observed in beriberi

Neurologic and psychiatric consultations are often necessary.

Diet: Patients with lethargy, confusion, and severe heart failure need to fast to prevent aspiration.

Treatment is also with thiamine hydrochloride either in tablet form or injection. A rapid and dramatic recovery within hours can be made when this is administered to patients with beriberi, and their health can be transformed within an hour of administration of the treatment. Thiamine occurs naturally in unrefined cereals and fresh foods, particularly fresh meat, legumes green vegetables , fruit, and milk.