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Delayed ethylene glycol poisoning presenting with abdominal pain and multiple cranial and peripheral neuropathies: a case report

Fiona Baldwin* and Hersharan Sran

Author Affiliations

Department of Intensive Care Medicine, Royal Sussex County Hospital, Brighton, UK

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Journal of Medical Case Reports 2010, 4:220  doi:10.1186/1752-1947-4-220

Published: 21 July 2010



Ethylene glycol poisoning may pose diagnostic difficulties if the history of ingestion is not volunteered, or if the presentation is delayed. This is because the biochemical features of high anion-gap metabolic acidosis and an osmolar gap resolve within 24 to 72 hours as the ethylene glycol is metabolized to toxic metabolites. This case illustrates the less well-known clinical features of delayed ethylene glycol poisoning, including multiple cranial and peripheral neuropathies, and the clinical findings which may point towards this diagnosis in the absence of a history of ingestion.

Case presentation

A 53-year-old Afro-Caribbean man presented with vomiting, abdominal pain and oliguria, and was found to have acute renal failure requiring emergency hemofiltration, and raised inflammatory markers. Computed tomography imaging of the abdomen revealed the appearance of bilateral pyelonephritis, however he failed to improve with broad-spectrum antibiotics, and subsequently developed multiple cranial neuropathies and increasing obtundation, necessitating intubation and ventilation. Computed tomography of the brain showed no focal lesions, and a lumbar puncture revealed a raised cerebrospinal fluid opening pressure and cyto-albuminological dissociation. Nerve conduction studies revealed a sensorimotor radiculoneuropathy mimicking a Guillain-Barre type lesion with an atypical distribution. It was only about two weeks after presentation that the history of ethylene glycol ingestion one week before presentation was confirmed. He had a slow recovery on the intensive care unit, requiring renal replacement therapy for eight weeks, and complicated by acute respiratory distress syndrome, neuropathic pain and a slow neurological recovery requiring prolonged rehabilitation.


Although neuropathy as a result of ethylene glycol poisoning has been described in a few case reports, all of these were in the context of a known history of ingestion. As the diagnosis may well be obscured if the history of ingestion is not elucidated, it is important to be aware of this possibility especially if presentation is delayed.