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Plasma exchange successfully treats central pontine myelinolysis after acute hypernatremia from intravenous sodium bicarbonate therapy

Kyung Yoon Chang, In-Hee Lee, Gi Jun Kim, Kangwon Cho, Hoon Suk Park and Hyung Wook Kim*

Author Affiliations

Division of Nephrology, Department of Internal Medicine, St. Vincent’s Hospital, The Catholic University of Korea, Seoul, Korea

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BMC Nephrology 2014, 15:56  doi:10.1186/1471-2369-15-56

Published: 4 April 2014



Osmotic demyelination syndrome (ODS) primarily occurs after rapid correction of severe hyponatremia. There are no proven effective therapies for ODS, but we describe the first case showing the successful treatment of central pontine myelinolysis (CPM) by plasma exchange, which occurred after rapid development of hypernatremia from intravenous sodium bicarbonate therapy.

Case presentation

A 40-year-old woman presented with general weakness, hypokalemia, and metabolic acidosis. The patient was treated with oral and intravenous potassium chloride, along with intravenous sodium bicarbonate. Although her bicarbonate deficit was 365 mEq, we treated her with an overdose of intravenous sodium bicarbonate, 480 mEq for 24 hours, due to the severity of her acidemia and her altered mental status. The next day, she developed hypernatremia with serum sodium levels rising from 142.8 mEq/L to 172.8 mEq/L. Six days after developing hypernatremia, she exhibited tetraparesis, drooling, difficulty swallowing, and dysarthria, and a brain MRI revealed high signal intensity in the central pons with sparing of the peripheral portion, suggesting CPM. We diagnosed her with CPM associated with the rapid development of hypernatremia after intravenous sodium bicarbonate therapy and treated her with plasma exchange. After two consecutive plasma exchange sessions, her neurologic symptoms were markedly improved except for mild diplopia. After the plasma exchange sessions, we examined the patient to determine the reason for her symptoms upon presentation to the hospital. She had normal anion gap metabolic acidosis, low blood bicarbonate levels, a urine pH of 6.5, and a calyceal stone in her left kidney. We performed a sodium bicarbonate loading test and diagnosed distal renal tubular acidosis (RTA). We also found that she had Sjögren’s syndrome after a positive screen for anti-Lo, anti-Ra, and after the results of Schirmer’s test and a lower lip biopsy. She was discharged and treated as an outpatient with oral sodium bicarbonate and potassium chloride.


This case indicates that serum sodium concentrations should be carefully monitored in patients with distal RTA receiving intravenous sodium bicarbonate therapy. We should keep in mind that acute hypernatremia and CPM can be associated with intravenous sodium bicarbonate therapy, and that CPM due to acute hypernatremia may be effectively treated with plasma exchange.

Central pontine myelinolysis; Hypernatremia; Plasma exchange; Renal tubular acidosis; Sjögren’s syndrome; Sodium bicarbonate