A life-threatening case of pseudo-aldosteronism secondary to excessive liquorice ingestion.
Background: Liquorice is found in many food products, soft drinks, and herbal medicines. Liquorice ingestion is an uncommon cause of apparent mineralocorticoid excess or pseudo-aldosteronism. The mechanism involves the inhibition of 11-beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type-2 by the active ingredient called glycyrrhizin. This leads to the uninhibited activation of mineralocorticoid receptors by cortisol. Confectionary products that contain liquorice are readily available in many countries around the world. CASE PRESENTATION: We report a case of severe refractory hypokalaemia with hypertensive crisis and acute pulmonary oedema due to excessive liquorice consumption. A 79-year-old female presented to the emergency department following a road traffic accident. She described feeling weak and dizzy while driving before the collision. She attended her general practitioner (GP) several weeks earlier for fatigue and was being managed for hypokalaemia on oral potassium supplements. Investigations revealed hypertension (BP 180/69 mmHg), severe hypokalaemia (K 2.2 mmol/l), normal renal function, normal serum magnesium with metabolic alkalosis. Spot urinary potassium was 22 mmol/l. The patient denied taking medications including over-the-counter or herbal medication that can cause hypokalaemia. Hypokalaemia persisted despite aggressive intravenous (i.v.) and oral potassium replacement. She later developed a hypertensive crisis (BP 239/114 mmHg) with pulmonary oedema. She required admission to the intensive care unit and was managed with intravenous furosemide infusion and isosorbide dinitrate infusion. On further discussion, our patient admitted to struggling with nicotine cravings since quitting smoking two months earlier. She began eating an excessive amount of liquorice sweets to manage her cravings. Suppression of plasma renin and aldosterone supported the diagnosis of apparent mineralocorticoid excess secondary to excessive liquorice consumption. Her symptoms and hypokalaemia resolved after stopping liquorice intake.
Conclusions: This case highlights the life-threatening and refractory nature of hypokalaemia secondary to excessive liquorice consumption. This case also emphasizes the importance of comprehensive history taking including dietary habits. Increased awareness among the public is required regarding the potential health hazards of excessive liquorice consumption.