A Case of Pellagra Associated with Long Term Alcoholism

Content Source: The Journal of Psychiatry and Neurological Sciences

To the Editor,

Pellagra is a systemic, nutritional disease associated with deficiency of vitamin B3 (niacin) and/or tryptophan and often other B vitamins (1). Pellagra is mostly seen in chronic alcoholics as a result of nutritionally poor diet and malabsorption (2). We present a pellagra case with long history of alcohol use, admitted with psychiatric complaints to our clinic.

Mr. A. was a 44 year old, married, primary school graduate male, who was running a coffeehouse. His socioeconomic status was low. His complaints were irritability, nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite. He had been drinking alcohol every day, for 33 years; its amount had increased to about 100cl for the last 15 years. The longest duration of remission was 3 months, when he was 13 years old. He was experiencing sweating, tremor of hands, insomnia, and irritability as withdrawal symptoms. In the last 2 years, periodically, he had problems in focusing and maintaining attention, delay in reaction time in answering any questions. He had depressive symptoms for 1 year and he had attempted suicide. In the last 2 months, he had diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite and erythema, followed by dark discoloration on the dorsal surfaces of his hands. On physical examination, hyper-keratotic plaques with well-defined borders on the dorsal surfaces of both hands, squamous lesions between fingers of both feet, loss of villi and hyperemia on the tongue was detected. He had tremor of both hands and wide-based gait. On psychiatric examination, he was confused, his time orientation was disturbed, self care was poor. Affect was restricted; associations and psychomotor activity were slow. The possibility of pellagra was considered as dermatitis, diarrhea and distortion of cognitive functions were observed. Electrocardiography (ECG), complete blood count, routine blood biochemical tests, routine urine tests, thyroid function tests, VDRL, microscopic stool examination, electroencephalography (EEG), vitamin B12 and folate measurements, cranial MRI, echocardiography, esophago-gastro-duodenoscopy were performed and no significant pathology was detected. As the patient’s symptoms did not respond to oral niacin treatment, niacin malabsorption was considered and a mixture of vitamin B1, B2, B6, B12, nicotinamide and dexpanthenol was given by intramuscular injection and a dramatical recovery was observed.

Pellagra is characterized by photosensitive symmetrical skin lesions, gastrointestinal disturbances, neurologic and psychiatric manifestations. The syndrome is known as “4 D’s”: dermatitis, diarrhea, dementia and death (1). Skin lesions seen in pellagra are photosensitive rash, primarily on the dorsal surfaces of the hands, arms, face and feet. In acute phase, skin lesions are erythema and bullae which resemble sunburn (wet pellagra), but after exposure to sun light, progress to chronic, symmetrical, scaled lesions occurs. Typically they are located on the neck (Casal necklace), hands and forearms (pellagra gauntlet) (3). Irritability, concentration problems, anxiety, fatigue, restlessness, apathy and depression are common psychiatric and neurological manifestations. Even uncommon, psychosis can be seen in pellagra, especially in pellagroid encephalopathy mostly encountered in chronic alcoholics. Confusion and eventually death occurs as the disease progresses (4). Gastrointestinal manifestations are fissures on the tongue and mouth, sourness, loss of appetite, dyspepsia and abdominal pain. Enteritis, which can be severe with nausea, vomitting and diarrhea can also be seen (5). Diagnosis is based on patient’s history and physical examination. There are no chemical tests to definitely diagnose pellagra (6).

In conclusion, low socioeconomic status, long duration of alcohol use, poor diet and characteristic findings should suggest pellagra, although it is a rare disease nowadays. It shouldn’t be considered as a disease that is seen only in undeveloped countries and considering pellagra in the differential diagnosis in chronic alcoholics with psychiatric, dermatologic and gastrointestinal symptoms has vital importance.


1. World Health Organization. Pellagra and its prevention and control in major emergencies. Geneva, World Health Organization, 2000 (document WHO/NHD/00.10).

2. Stratigos JD, Katsambas A. Pellagra: a still existing disease. Br J Dermatol 1977; 96:99-106.

3. Pipili C, Cholongitas E, Ioannidou D. The diagnostic importance of photosensivity dermatoses in chronic alcoholism: Report of two cases. Dermatol Online J 2008; 14:15.

4. Cook CC, Hallwood PM, Thomson AD. B Vitamin deficiency and neuropsychiatric syndromes in alcohol misuse. Alcohol Alcohol 1998; 33:317-336.

5. Karthikeyan K, Thappa DM. Pellagra and skin. Int J Dermatol 2002; 41:476-481.

6. Hegyi J, Schwartz RA, Hegyi V. Pellagra: Dermatitis, dementia, and diarrhea. Int J Dermatol 2004; 43:1-5.

What If? – 2019.05.28

What if M.S, Grand Mal seizures, meningitis and the like are all a result of the central nervous systems protective barrier being destroyed by disseminated Strongyloidiasis? Specifically Larva currens/Cutaneous strongyloidiasis maybe?

Strongyloidiasis Current Status with Emphasis in Diagnosis and Drug Research

CDC-Strongyloides -|- Larva Currens -|- Strongyloides meningitis -|- Cutaneous Larva Migrans & Larva Currens

From www.epilepsy.com <–THIS – IF YOU HAVE HAD SEIZURES

Strongyloides stercoralis is a small nematode that can parasitize the small bowel of humans. Larvae living freely in moist soil invade rapidly through contacted skin and migrate into lymphatics to reach the venous system, where they travel to the lungs, migrate up airways to the glottis, and then down the esophagus to the small intestine.

When immune function is compromised (e.g., in HIV infection or AIDS), the CNS can become involved in disseminated strongyloidiasis. CNS manifestations can be secondary to larvae infestation. More commonly, however, gut bacteria transmitted by the migrating parasite produce bacterial meningitis. Seizures can be an epiphenomenon of these complications.

Thiabendazole can be helpful if started early in the disease process, but disseminated strongyloidiasis is usually fatal.Comorbid seizure management is routine.162

Adapted from: Goldstein MA and Harden CL. Infectious states. In: Ettinger AB and Devinsky O, eds. Managing epilepsy and co-existing disorders. Boston: Butterworth-Heinemann; 2002;83-133. 
With permission from Elsevier (www.elsevier.com). 


Strongyloides stercoralis Infection in Alcoholic Patients

~Content Source


The course of Strongyloides stercoralis infection is usually asymptomatic with a low discharge of rhabditoid larva in feces. However, the deleterious effects of alcohol consumption seem to enhance the susceptibility to infection, as shown by a fivefold higher strongyloidiasis frequency in alcoholics than in nonalcoholics. Moreover, the association between S. stercoralis infection and alcoholism presents a risk for hyperinfection and severe strongyloidiasis. There are several possible mechanisms for the disruption of the host-parasite equilibrium in ethanol-addicted patients with chronic strongyloidiasis. One explanation is that chronic ethanol intake stimulates the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis to produce excessive levels of endogenous cortisol, which in turn can lead to a deficiency in type 2 T helper cells (Th2) protective response, and also to mimic the parasite hormone ecdysone, which promotes the transformation of rhabditiform larvae to filariform larvae, leading to auto-infection. Therefore, when untreated, alcoholic patients are continuously infected by this autoinfection mechanism. Thus, the early diagnosis of strongyloidiasis and treatment can prevent serious forms of hyperinfection in ethanol abusers.

Strongyloides stercoralis Infection and Strongyloidiasis

The Strongyloides stercoralis threadworm is a soil-transmitted nematode that resides in the small intestine of human hosts. The parasitic infection takes place when filariform larvae penetrate through the skin, usually of the feet, and migrate through the bloodstream to the lungs [9]. After ascending the respiratory tract to the oropharynx, larvae are swallowed and reach the duodenal mucosal crypts to grow into parthenogenetic females that produce embryonated-eggs. Thereafter, rhabditoid larvae hatch from the eggs and are excreted in feces. However, some larvae may transform into the filariform infective stage and penetrate the perirectal mucosa or skin, thereby reentering the circulatory system and starting the cycle again. Therefore, if not treated, because this is an auto-infection process, the host may remain in a chronic carrier state for decades [10].