Nitrous oxide-induced demyelination: Clinical presentation, diagnosis and treatment recommendations

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Journal of the neurological sciences


BACKGROUND: Recreational use of nitrous oxide (NO) in the general public has led to increasing reports of NO-induced demyelination (NOID). We describe the varying clinical presentations and pathophysiology, and offer a treatment paradigm.

METHODS: A literature search of MEDLINE and EMBASE resulted in 42 publications with 37 studies meeting the inclusion criteria, for a total of 51 patients. Our case series included 5 patients seen from 2014 to 2018 followed over 3-60 months.

RESULTS: Those with sensory symptoms and subjective weakness were categorized as having "mild" symptoms (25%). Symptoms indicating involvement outside the dorsal columns such as observer-graded weakness were categorized as "moderate" (61%). Patients with the aforementioned plus cognitive effects were categorized as "severe" (12%). There was no dose-dependent relationship between the amount of NO used and clinical impairment. There was a trend between the severity of neurologic impairment and serum levels of B12. Two patients were noncompliant. One initiated only oral therapy and did not improve. One received injections a month apart and worsened.

CONCLUSIONS: Patients with NOID tend to have worse symptoms when presenting with lower serum vitamin B12 levels and have good recovery rates when treated with intramuscular B12 and oral supplementation.

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