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Bilateral papilledema with vision loss due to post–COVID-19–induced thiamine deficiency: illustrative case

Kern H. Guppy, Yekaterina K. Axelrod, and Han Kim

BACKGROUND

Bilateral papilledema with vision loss is considered a neurosurgical emergency due to high intracranial pressure. However, it may not be the only cause of papilledema. The authors reported an association among coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), bilateral papilledema, blindness, and Wernicke’s encephalopathy (WE).

OBSERVATIONS

An 18-year-old woman presented to the neurosurgery service with rapid profound vision loss and bilateral papilledema. She had COVID-19 3 months earlier with subsequent loss of smell (anosmia) and taste (ageusia), which resulted in hyperemesis and a 43-lb weight loss. Examination revealed ataxia, horizontal nystagmus, and blindness. Magnetic resonance imaging and magnetic resonance venography of her brain were normal. Presumptive diagnosis of WE was made, and she was treated with intravenous thiamine with restoration of vision within 48 hours. Patient’s thiamine level was less than half the normal value.

LESSONS

Neurosurgeons should be aware of this unique correlation between papilledema and vision loss and its association with WE due to post–COVID-19 hyperemesis and weight loss from anosmia and ageusia.