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Ethylene glycol test

Definition

Ethylene glycol is a type of alcohol found in many household products. It does not have color or odor. It tastes sweet. Ethylene glycol is poisonous. People sometimes drink ethylene glycol by mistake or on purpose as a substitute for alcohol.

A test can be done to check for ethylene glycol in the blood.

How the test is performed

Blood is most often drawn from a vein. The vein usually used is on the inside of the elbow or the back of the hand.

The procedure is done in the following way:

  • The site is cleaned with germ-killing medicine (antiseptic).
  • The health care provider wraps an elastic band around the upper arm to apply pressure to the area and make the vein swell with blood.
  • A needle is gently inserted into the vein.
  • The blood collects into an airtight vial or tube attached to the needle.
  • The elastic band is removed.
  • The needle is removed.
  • The puncture site is covered with an adhesive strip to stop any bleeding.

In infants or young children, a sharp tool called a lancet may be used to puncture the skin and make it bleed. The blood collects into a small glass tube called a pipette, or onto a slide or test strip. Afterward, a bandage may be placed over the area if there is any bleeding.

How to prepare for the test

No special preparation is needed.

How the test will feel

When the needle is inserted to draw blood, you may feel slight pain, or only a prick or stinging. Afterward, there may be some throbbing.

Why the test is performed

This test is ordered when a health care provider thinks someone has been poisoned by ethylene glycol. Drinking ethylene glycol is a medical emergency. Ethylene glycol can damage the brain, lungs, liver, kidneys, and lungs. The poisoning  disturbs the body's chemistry and can lead to  condition called metabolic acidosis. In severe cases, shock, organ failure, and death can result.

Normal Values

There should be no ethylene glycol present in the blood.

What abnormal results mean

Abnormal results are a sign of possible ethylene glycol poisoning.

What the risks are

There is very little risk in having your blood taken. Veins and arteries vary in size from one person to another and from one side of the body to the other. Taking a blood sample from some people may be more difficult than from others.

Other risks may include:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Fainting or feeling light-headed
  • Hematoma (blood accumulating under the skin)
  • Infection (a slight risk any time the skin is broken)

References

Pincus MR, Abraham NZ Jr. Toxicology and therapeutic drug monitoring. In: McPherson RA, Pincus MR, eds. Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 22nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 23.


Review Date: 1/22/2013
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.
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