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Keywords:

  • Acid-base balance;
  • acidosis;
  • adolescent;
  • alcoholic intoxication;
  • child

The scientific literature concerning alcohol intoxication is enormous. However, less is known of alcohol-induced disturbances in children and adolescents and most of those reports concern cases of hypoglycemia in children under five years of age. We studied the clinical status and chemistry, especially acid-base balance, in 36 young teenagers treated at hospital for alcohol intoxication. On physical examination 6 patients were somnolent, 18 were comatose and 12 were in deep coma. The impairment of consciousness was directly proportional to the blood ethanol concentration. Acidosis was a central finding, and it was caused by a combination of respiratory and metabolic factors (a high blood PCO2 and a low base excess; r = 0.97, p< 0.001); the finding of respiratory acidosis dominated. Base excess correlated negatively with beta-hydroxybutyrate and lactate, as expected. All the metabolic products measured—acetate, beta-hydroxybutyrate and lactate—were significantly elevated compared with the control patients. No hypoglycemia was found. Prior treatment with intravenous glucose decreased vomiting and normalized the serum lactate concentration and PO2. Hypokalemia was the most common abnormality in serum electrolytes. In four patients the rate of fall of blood ethanol concentration was 2.8–3.3 mmol/h (0.13–0.15 g/l-1 h-1) and the mean acetate concentration was 0.8 mmol/l (SE 0.3). Biochemical disturbances in young teenage alcohol intoxicants resemble those previously found in adults. The severe toxicity by ethanol, planifesting in coma, occurs in lower blood alcohol concentrations in children than in adults