Doctors find alcohol in woman’s bladder even though she doesn’t drink

A 61-year-old woman with cirrhosis and diabetes, looking for a liver transplant, was recently denied one. She was instead referred to an alcohol abuse treatment. The only problem the Pennsylvania woman denied ever drinking alcohol.

According to Interesting Engineering, doctors at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Medical Center were initially skeptical of her no-drinking claims, since multiple urine tests for alcohol showed up positive. However, they ran a blood test – and were surprised to find that it showed no alcohol in her blood. The anonymous patient also did not show any others signs of alcohol impairment.

Puzzled, medical professionals at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center conducted some more tests and found that the problem lay in her bladder – it was producing alcohol on its own.

According to a case study published Monday in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, doctors said yeast in her bladder fermented sugar to produce ethanol. They named the rare medical condition “urinary auto-brewery syndrome”.

USA Today reports that the study’s authors also made a distinction between traditional auto-brewery syndrome and urinary auto-brewery syndrome. In the former, patients produce alcohol in their gastrointestinal system. It is also known as gut fermentation syndrome.

Patients with traditional auto-brewery syndrome also have alcohol in their blood, and show symptoms of alcohol impairment. This woman, however, didn’t present any of these symptoms since her bladder produced the alcohol. She is now being reconsidered for a liver transplant.

“I’m happy to demystify the situation, and that’s helpful to her because this alcohol abuse diagnosis has been haunting her,” said Kenichi Tamama, medical director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Clinical Toxicology Laboratory.