Central pontine myelinolysis associated with low potassium levels in alcoholism

J Neurol. 1990 Jul;237(4):275-6. doi: 10.1007/BF00314635.


Two patients with chronic alcohol abuse and central pontine myelinolysis are described. One developed a Korsakoff syndrome 2 days before admission to our hospital and the other showed signs of a incipient delirium without Korsakoff syndrome. Diagnosis of incipient central pontine myelinolysis was based on acute brain-stem dysfunction, serum electrolyte disturbances, malnutrition with vitamin B1 (thiamine), B6 (pyridoxine) and B12 (cyanocobalamin) deficiency in combination with typical neuroradiological findings. Hypokalaemia but no disturbance in serum sodium levels was found in both patients. After correction of hypokalaemia and vitamin deficiency the patients showed complete recovery of neurological and neuropsychological function. The findings are interpreted as suggesting that disturbances in serum potassium levels as well as rapid correction of hyponatraemia may be associated with pontine swelling and dysfunction which, if undetected, leads to central pontine myelinolysis.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcohol Amnestic Disorder / blood
  • Alcohol Amnestic Disorder / complications
  • Alcoholism / blood*
  • Alcoholism / complications
  • Alcoholism / diagnosis
  • Brain Diseases / etiology
  • Demyelinating Diseases / blood*
  • Demyelinating Diseases / etiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pons*
  • Potassium / blood*
  • Sodium / blood


  • Sodium
  • Potassium