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Baking soda misuse as a home remedy: case experience of the California Poison Control System

Authors

  • S. A. Al-Abri MD,

    1. Medical Toxicology Fellow, California Poison Control System – San Francisco Division, University of California, San Francisco, CA, USA
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  • T. Kearney PharmD, DABAT

    Corresponding author
    1. Managing Director, Professor of Clinical Pharmacy, California Poison Control System – San Francisco Division, Department of Clinical Pharmacy, University of California, San Francisco, School of Pharmacy, CA, USA
    • Correspondence: T. Kearney, PharmD, California Poison Control System – SF Division UCSF Box 1369, San Francisco, CA 94143, USA. Tel.: (415) 643 3201; fax: (415) 502 6060; e-mail: pcctk@calpoison.org

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Summary

What is known and objective

Baking soda is a common household product promoted by the manufacturer as an antacid. It contains sodium bicarbonate and has the potential for significant toxicity when ingested in excessive amounts. Characterizing the patterns and outcomes from the misuse of baking soda as a home remedy can guide the clinical assessment and preventative counselling of patients at risk for use of this product.

Methods

We conducted a retrospective review of all symptomatic cases involving ingestion and misuse of a baking soda powder product that were reported to the California Poison Control System between the years 2000 and 2012.

Results and discussion

Of the 192 cases we identified, 55·8% were female, ages ranged 2 months to 79 years, and the most common reasons for misuse included antacid (60·4%), ‘beat a urine drug test’ (11·5%) and treat a UTI (4·7%). Most cases (55·2%) had significant symptoms warranting a medical evaluation, whereas 12 patients required hospital admission developed either electrolyte imbalances, metabolic alkalosis or respiratory depression.

What is new and conclusion

Misuse of baking soda can result in serious electrolyte and acid/base imbalances. Patients at highest risk of toxicity may include those who chronically use an antacid, those who use the method to ‘beat’ urine drug screens, pregnant women and young children. Self-treatment with baking soda as a home remedy may also mask or delay medical care thereby complicating or exacerbating an existing medical problem. We suggest that healthcare providers counsel high-risk patients about the potential complications of misuse of baking soda as a home remedy.

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