Infantile Beriberi

Infantile Beriberi: A Rare but Dangerous Disease

Infantile beriberi is a rare, but serious, health condition that affects primarily infants between the ages of 3 months and 2 years. Infantile beriberi is caused by a dietary deficiency of thiamine (also known as vitamin B1). The severity of this condition can range from mild to life-threatening, so it is important for parents and caregivers to be aware of the signs and symptoms of this condition, as well as strategies for preventing and treating it.

Signs and Symptoms

The most common signs and symptoms of infantile beriberi include:

  • Irritability and agitation
  • Poor feeding
  • Lethargy
  • Poor circulation
  • Swelling of feet and/or legs
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Confusion
  • Ataxia (loss of coordination)

In severe cases, infantile beriberi can lead to cardiac failure, coma, and even death.


Infantile beriberi is caused by a dietary deficiency of thiamine (vitamin B1). Breast milk is the primary source of this vitamin for young infants, and a mother’s inadequate intake of thiamine can result in her breast milk having insufficient amounts of this essential nutrient.

In some cases, infantile beriberi can also be caused by the use of non-fortified infant formulas, which do not contain adequate levels of thiamine.

Risk Factors

The primary risk factor for infantile beriberi is inadequate dietary intake of thiamine. This can occur if a mother does not have a healthy and balanced diet that provides all of the essential nutrients. Other risk factors for infantile beriberi include:

  • Premature birth
  • Being born to a mother who had inadequate dietary intake of thiamine
  • Inadequate intake of thiamine in breast milk from a lactating mother
  • Using non-fortified infant formulas
  • Family history of beriberi

Prevention and Treatment

The best way to prevent infantile beriberi is to ensure that infants are getting adequate amounts of thiamine from their diet. Breastfeeding mothers should be sure to eat a healthy and balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, as well as foods that are high in thiamine, such as pork, poultry, fish, and nuts. Additionally, mothers should take a daily vitamin supplement that includes thiamine.

If an infant is suspected of having infantile beriberi, it is important to seek medical treatment right away. Treatment typically includes high doses of thiamine, and may include other treatments depending on the severity of the condition. With prompt and appropriate treatment, most cases of infantile beriberi can be successfully managed.