Severe hypernatremia in a hospitalized child: Munchausen by proxy

Erik Su, Michael Shoykhet, Michael J. Bell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


An 8-week-old infant presented to a referring institution with profuse diarrhea and infectious enteritis for 1 week. He was initially treated for suspected Salmonella spp. sepsis and meningitis, because the organism was found in the stool, but the child's illness progressed, manifested by paroxysmal profuse diarrhea and increased urine output. After several weeks, he suffered a sagittal venous thrombosis and intracranial hemorrhage. Subsequently the child was transferred to a tertiary center for intestinal evaluation. The patient's diarrhea and excessive diuresis resolved, and his sodium normalized soon after transfer. Four days later, however, after his mother arrived, he immediately developed severe hypernatremia (serum sodium concentration [Na+] = 214 mEq/L), with resumption of diarrhea and excessive diuresis. A gastric aspirate during the crisis demonstrated an extremely high sodium content, [Na+] = 1416 mEq/L, consistent with salt intoxication. Surveillance of the mother revealed that she manipulated the indwelling nasogastric tube; confronted, she admitted to salt administration. This case describes one of the ways that Munchausen syndrome by proxy can manifest with profound neurologic sequelae, and highlights the need for close observation and swift intervention when sufficient cause is present.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)270-273
Number of pages4
JournalPediatric Neurology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Neurology
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Clinical Neurology

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