Theophylline poisoning: a review of 64 cases

M. J. Parr*, F. C. Anaes, A. C. Day, S. L. Kletchko, P. D. Crone, A. P. N. Rankin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Sixty-four cases of theophylline poisoning were reviewed. All but two cases represented intentional self poisoning. The majority of patients were young females who presented acutely after ingestion of sustained release preparations prescribed for asthma. Serum theophylline levels (mean 365 μmol/l, SD 177) indicated a high risk of toxicity. Electrolyte and metabolic abnormalities (hypokalaemia, hypomagnesaemia, hypophosphataemia, hyperglycaemia, acid-base disturbances and leucocytosis) were common. Serum potassium, serum glucose, leucocyte count and length of stay in the intensive care unit all correlated strongly with maximum serum theophylline level (p<0.001). The low incidence of life-threatening manifestations of severe toxicity (hypotension, serious arrhythmias or seizures) and excellent outcome, contrasts with many previous reports. The results support the use of a management regimen which emphasizes intensive supportive therapy and restricts the use of charcoal haemoperfusion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)394-398
Number of pages5
JournalIntensive Care Medicine
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 1990
Externally publishedYes


  • Poisoning
  • Theophylline
  • Treatment


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