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Toxicol Rev. 2003;22(3):129-36.

Does urine alkalinization increase salicylate elimination? If so, why?

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  • 1National Poisons Information Service (Birmingham Centre), City Hospital, Birmingham, UK.


Urine alkalinization is a treatment regimen that increases poison elimination by the administration of intravenous sodium bicarbonate to produce urine with a pH > or = 7.5. Experimental and clinical studies confirm that urinary alkalinization increases salicylate elimination, although the mechanisms by which this occurs have not been elucidated. The conventional view is that ionisation of a weak acid, such as salicylic acid, is increased in an alkaline environment. Since the ionisation constant (pKa) is a logarithmic function then, theoretically, a small change in urine pH will have a disproportionately larger effect on salicylate clearance. Hence, elimination of salicylic acid by the kidneys is increased substantially in alkaline urine. However, as salicylic acid is almost completely ionised within physiological pH limits, alkalinization of the urine could not, therefore, significantly increase the extent of ionisation further and the conventional view of the mechanism by which alkalinization is effective is patently impossible. Further experimental studies are required to clarify the mechanisms by which urine alkalinization enhances salicylate elimination.

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