Increased serum formate in the diagnosis of methanol poisoning

J Anal Toxicol. 2005 Sep;29(6):586-8. doi: 10.1093/jat/29.6.586.


Early diagnosis is essential for successful treatment in methanol poisoning. Methanol detection by gas chromatography is not available in most hospitals. Methanol increases the osmolal gap in serum and its metabolite formate increases the anion gap. The sensitivity of these indirect diagnostic methods is not good at low concentrations of methanol or formate. We therefore studied the usefulness of formate measurement in diagnosing methanol poisoning. In 15 patients poisoned with methanol, serum formate was measured enzymatically on a Cobas Mira analyzer using formate dehydrogenase and nicotinamid adenine dinucleotid. Day-to-day coefficient of variation was 5%, and the upper reference limit was 2 mg/dL (0.4 mmol/L). Methanol was detected in all 15 patients of whom 14 had elevated serum formate concentrations. Anion gap was increased in 11 of 11, and osmolal gap in 11 patients of 15 examined. Metabolic acidosis was present in 12 of 15 patients, but pH was below 7.30 in only 9 of them. Four patients with no symptoms had formate concentrations in the range 2-38 mg/dL (0.5-8.3 mmol/L), indicating that increased serum formate was a sensitive indicator of methanol poisoning. Our results proved formate analyzes to be a simple, sensitive, and specific way of diagnosing methanol poisoning. Confounders are patients admitted early, or concomitant ethanol ingestion, and therefore no acidosis. This problem may, however, be omitted by repeated formate analysis in patients developing metabolic acidosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Enzyme Multiplied Immunoassay Technique
  • Female
  • Formates / blood*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Methanol / poisoning*
  • Middle Aged
  • Poisoning / diagnosis


  • Biomarkers
  • Formates
  • formic acid
  • Methanol