In 1881 Wernicke,1 on the basis of the cases of 3 patients studied carefully during life and at the autopsy table, delineated a clinical syndrome characterized by clouding of consciousness, varying ophthalmoplegias and ataxia. The author did not indict alcohol as the causative agent, but suggested that various toxins, including alcohol, might produce the clinicopathologic picture. Nonetheless, most subsequent cases of the syndrome were reported as occurring in inebriates, and alcoholism gradually came to be accepted as the etiologic basis of this condition. It is therefore important to emphasize that in Wernicke's original case the disease did not occur in an alcoholic person.
The patient in Wernicke's first case was a 20 year old seamstress who was admitted to the Charité after a suicidal attempt by the ingestion of sulfuric acid. She left the hospital in several days, but soon thereafter persistent and intractable vomiting set in, probably as
JOLLIFFE N, WORTIS H, FEIN HD. THE WERNICKE SYNDROME. Arch NeurPsych. 1941;46(4):569-597. doi:10.1001/archneurpsyc.1941.02280220002001