Subacute combined degeneration of the cord secondary to nitrous oxide misuse: No laughing matter

Pia F P Charters, Hamish Duncan Morrison, Jonathan Witherick, Susan King

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Nitrous oxide (N2O) has several traditional uses as a surgical and dental anaesthetic, as well as in aerosol spray propellants. It is the combination of analgesic and euphoric qualities coupled with accessibility as an over-the-counter household item that lends N2O to recreational use. Despite increasing evidence that prolonged use of N2O both medically and as a drug of abuse can cause disabling neurological side-effects, it remains widely used. We present the case of an 18-year-old male who was diagnosed with subacute combined degeneration of the cord (SCDC) secondary to acute, heavy recreational use of N2O. The patient presented with progressive paraesthesia affecting his hands and feet associated with distal weakness. MRI of the cervical spine revealed symmetric bilateral high T2 signal within the dorsal columns extending from the level of C2 to T2 with the inverted 'V' sign on axial T 2-weighted slices indicative of SCDC. Although vitamin B12 levels were within normal range, marked elevation of methylmalonic acid and homocysteine support the diagnosis of B12 inactivation and functional B12 deficiency, which fully resolved with treatment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20200179
JournalBJR case reports
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2021

Bibliographical note

© 2021 The Authors. Published by the British Institute of Radiology.


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