Ethylene glycol poisoning is poisoning caused by drinking ethylene glycol. Early symptoms include intoxication, vomiting and abdominal pain. Later symptoms may include a decreased level of consciousness, headache, and seizures. Long term outcomes may include kidney failure and brain damage. Toxicity and death may occur after drinking even a small amount.
Ethylene glycol is a colorless, odorless, sweet liquid, commonly found in antifreeze. It may be drunk accidentally or intentionally in an attempt to cause death. When broken down by the body it results in glycolic acid and oxalic acid which cause most of the toxicity. The diagnosis may be suspected when calcium oxalate crystals are seen in the urine or when acidosis or an increased osmol gap is present in the blood. Diagnosis may be confirmed by measuring ethylene glycol levels in the blood; however, many hospitals do not have the ability to perform this test.
Early treatment increases the chance of a good outcome. Treatment consists of stabilizing the person, followed by the use of an antidote. The preferred antidote is fomepizole with ethanol used if this is not available. Hemodialysis may also be used in those where there is organ damage or a high degree of acidosis. Other treatments may include sodium bicarbonate, thiamine, and magnesium.
More than 5000 cases of poisoning occur in the United States each year. Those affected are often adults and male. Deaths from ethylene glycol have been reported as early as 1930. An outbreak of deaths in 1937 due to a medication mixed in a similar compound, diethylene glycol, resulted in the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938 in the United States which mandated evidence of safety before new medications could be sold. Antifreeze products sometimes have a substance to make it bitter added to discourage drinking by children and other animals but this has not been found to be effective.