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J Med Case Rep. 2007 Dec 28;1:186. doi: 10.1186/1752-1947-1-186.

Marathon related death due to brainstem herniation in rehydration-related hyponatraemia: a case report.

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The Tavistock Intensive Care Unit, The National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Queen Square, London, WC1N 3BG, UK.



Identifying marathon runners at risk of neurological deterioration at the end of the race (within a large cohort complaining of exhaustion, dehydration, nausea, headache, dizziness, etc.) is challenging. Here we report a case of rehydration-related hyponatraemia with ensuing brain herniation.


We report the death of runner in his 30's who collapsed in the recovery area following a marathon. Following rehydration he developed a respiratory arrest in the emergency room. He was found to be hyponatraemic (130 mM). A CT brain scan showed severe hydrocephalus and brain stem herniation. Despite emergency insertion of an extraventricular drain, he was tested for brainstem death the following morning. Funduscopy demonstrated an acute-on-chronic papilledema; CSF spectrophotometry did not reveal any trace of oxyhemoglobin or bilirubin, but ferritin levels were considerably raised (530 ng/mL, upper reference value 12 ng/mL), consistent with a previous bleed. Retrospectively it emerged that the patient had suffered from a thunderclap headache some months earlier. Subsequently he developed morning headaches and nausea. This suggests that he may have suffered from a subarachnoid haemorrhage complicated by secondary hydrocephalus. This would explain why in this case the relatively mild rehydration-related hyponatremia may have caused brain swelling sufficient for herniation.


Given the frequency of hyponatraemia in marathon runners (serum Na <135 mM in about 13%), and the non-specific symptoms, we discuss how a simple screening test such as funduscopy may help to identify those who require urgent neuroimaging.

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