Symptoms & Signs
The first symptom of ethylene glycol ingestion is similar to the feeling caused by drinking alcohol (ethanol). Within a few hours, more toxic effects become apparent. Symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, convulsions, stupor, or even coma.
An overdose of ethylene glycol can damage the brain, lungs, liver, kidneys, and lungs. The poisoning causes disturbances in the body’s chemistry, including metabolic acidosis. The disturbances may be severe enough to cause profound shock, organ failure, and death.
As little as 120 milliliters (approximately 4 fluid ounces) of ethylene glycol may be enough to kill an average-sized man.
Diagnosis & Tests
Ethylene glycol toxicity should be suspected in anyone who is severely ill after drinking an unknown substance, especially if they at first appear drunk and do not have a smell of alcohol on their breath.
Diagnosis of ethylene glycol toxicity is usually made through a combination of blood, urine, and other tests such as:
- Arterial blood gas analysis
- Chest x-ray (shows fluids in the lungs)
- Complete blood count (CBC)
- CT scan (shows brain swelling)
- Ethylene glycol test
- Ketones – blood
- Toxicology screen
Tests will show increased levels of ethylene glycol, blood chemical disturbances, and possible signs of kidney failure and muscle or liver damage.
Review Date : 1/30/2009
Reviewed By : John E. Duldner, Jr., MD, MS, Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine, Department of Emergency Medicine, Samaritan Regional Health System, Ashland, Ohio. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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