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Central pontine myelinolysis

  • Definition

    Central pontine myelinolysis is brain cell dysfunction caused by the destruction of the layer (myelin sheath) covering nerve cells in the brainstem (pons).

    Alternative Names

    Osmotic demyelination syndrome

    Causes, incidence, and risk factors

    The destruction of the myelin sheath that covers nerve cells prevents signals from being properly transmitted in the nerve. This decreases the nerve's ability to communicate with other cells.

    The most common cause of central pontine myelinolysis is a quick rise in the body's sodium levels. This most often occurs when someone is being treated for low blood levels of sodium (hyponatremia) and the levels rise too fast. It also can occasionally occur when high levels of sodium in the body (hypernatremia) are corrected too quickly.

    This condition does not occur on its own. It is a complication of treatment for other conditions or from the other conditions themselves.

    Risks include:

    • Alcoholism
    • Liver disease
    • Malnutrition from serious illnesses