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Acute poisoning with autumn crocus (Colchicum autumnale L.)

Summary

Introduction

Colchicum autumnale, commonly known as the autumn crocus or meadow saffron, contains the antimitotic colchicine, which binds to tubulin and prevents it forming microtubules that are part of the cytoskeleton in all cells.

Case report

A 71-year-old woman ate a plant she thought to be wild garlic (Allium ursinum). Ten hours later she arrived at the emergency department complaining of nausea, vomiting and watery diarrhea. Ingestion of a poisonous plant was suspected and she was treated with gastric lavage, oral activated charcoal and an infusion of normal saline. Toxicology analysis with gas chromatography and mass spectrometry revealed colchicine in the patient’s gastric lavage, blood (5 μ/l) and urine (30 μ/l). She developed arrhythmias, liver failure, pancreatitis, ileus, and bone marrow suppression with pancytopenia. Alopecia began in the third week. Treatment was supportive only. Five months later she had no clinical or laboratory signs of poisoning.

Discussion

The patient mistakenly ingested autumn crocus instead of wild garlic because of their great similarity. Colchicine primarily blocks mitosis in tissues with rapid cell turnover; this results in gastroenterocolitis in the first phase of colchicine poisoning, bone marrow hypoplasia with pancytopenia in the second and alopecia in the third, all of which were present in our patient. Colchicine toxicity in tissues without rapid cell turnover caused arrhythmias, acute liver failure and pancreatitis.

Conclusion

Colchicine poisoning can result in gastroenterocolitis followed by multi-organ dysfunction syndrome. In unexplained gastroenterocolitis after ingestion of wild plants as a salad or spice, especially when wild garlic is mentioned, we should always consider autumn crocus. Diagnosis could be confirmed only by toxicology analyses. Management of colchicine poisoning is restricted to supportive therapy.

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Correspondence to Miran Brvar.

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Brvar, M., Koželj, G., Možina, M. et al. Acute poisoning with autumn crocus (Colchicum autumnale L.). Wien Klin Wochenschr 116, 205–208 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF03040489

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Key words

  • Colchicum autumnale
  • autumn crocus
  • colchicine
  • gastroenterocolitis
  • multi-organ dysfunction syndrome