Glue-sniffing and distal renal tubular acidosis: sticking to the facts.
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An index case is presented to introduce the subject of the acid-base and electrolyte abnormalities resulting from toluene abuse. These include metabolic acidosis associated with a normal anion gap and excessive loss of sodium and potassium in the urine. The major question addressed is, what is the basis for the metabolic acidosis? Overproduction of hippuric acid resulting from the metabolism of toluene plays a more important role in the genesis of the metabolic acidosis than was previously believed. This conclusion is supported by the observation that the rate of excretion of ammonium was not low during metabolic acidosis in six of eight patients, suggesting that distal renal tubular acidosis was not an important acid-base abnormality in most cases where ammonium was measured. The excretion of hippurate in the urine unmatched by ammonium also mandates an enhanced rate of excretion of the cations, sodium and potassium. The loss of sodium causes extracellular fluid volume contraction and a fall in the glomerular filtration rate, which may transform the normal anion gap type of metabolic acidosis into one with a high anion gap (accumulation of hippurate and other anions). Continuing loss of potassium in the urine leads to hypokalemia. An understanding of the metabolism of toluene provides the basis for the unusual biochemical abnormalities seen with abuse of this solvent.
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