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Peripheral neuropathy is a common complication of arsenic toxicity. Symptoms are usually mild and reversible following discontinuation of treatment. A more severe chronic sensorimotor polyneuropathy characterized by distal axonal-loss neuropathy can be seen in chronic arsenic exposure. The clinical course of arsenic neurotoxicity in patients with coexistence of thiamine deficiency is only anecdotally known but this association may potentially lead to severe consequences.
We describe a case of acute irreversible axonal neuropathy in a patient with hidden thiamine deficiency who was treated with a short course of arsenic trioxide for acute promyelocytic leukemia. Thiamine replacement therapy and arsenic trioxide discontinuation were not followed by neurological recovery and severe polyneuropathy persisted at 12-month follow-up.
Thiamine plasma levels should be measured in patients who are candidate to arsenic trioxide therapy. Prophylactic administration of vitamin B1 may be advisable. The appearance of polyneuropathy signs early during the administration of arsenic trioxide should prompt electrodiagnostic testing to rule out a pattern of axonal neuropathy which would need immediate discontinuation of arsenic trioxide.
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