Toronto Woman's Mystery Illness Revealed: Her Body Makes Its Own Alcohol

Written by Henrik Rothen

Jun.03 - 2024 10:21 PM CET

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Photo: Shutterstock.com
Photo: Shutterstock.com
A Canadian woman's body produced so much alcohol internally that doctors didn't believe her, leading to seven emergency room visits in two years.

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A Canadian woman's mysterious condition turned her body into an alcohol factory, leading to constant dizziness, disorientation, and seven emergency room visits over two years.

Yet, no doctor believed her—until one did.

Living in a Dizzying Reality

For a woman in Toronto, daily life became a struggle against unexplained intoxication.

She experienced severe dizziness, disorientation, and even fainted while preparing dinner for her children.

Despite these alarming symptoms, her repeated visits to the emergency room yielded no answers.

Doctors were skeptical of her claims, assuming she was secretly consuming alcohol, despite her insistence to the contrary.

The Search for Answers

Dr. Rahel Zewude, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Toronto, recalls the woman's plight.

"She kept going to the family doctor, ended up in the emergency room seven times in two years," Zewude told CNN. Despite this, her symptoms were consistently dismissed.

Routine tests revealed that her blood alcohol level ranged between 30 and 62 millimoles per liter—dangerously high, given that normal levels are under 2 millimoles per liter.

Barbara Cordell, president of the Auto-Brewery Syndrome Information and Research association, explained that such levels could be fatal.

“I know more than 300 people diagnosed with fermentative bowel syndrome, and we have more than 800 patients and their family members in our Facebook support group,” Cordell said. She noted the peculiarity of these patients being able to function with such high alcohol levels.

Despite the overwhelming evidence, the woman faced disbelief from medical professionals.

She was even examined by three psychiatrists who also doubted her claims. Her religious beliefs, which prohibited alcohol consumption, and her husband's assurances that she had not been drinking, were dismissed.

The Breakthrough

The turning point came during her seventh ER visit. An observant emergency doctor considered the possibility of fermentative bowel syndrome (FBS) and referred her to a specialist.

Dr. Fahad Malik, a gastroenterologist, highlighted the challenges faced by patients before a correct diagnosis.

"Most patients were thought to be binge drinkers or have behavioral problems prior to diagnosis," Malik said.

Understanding Auto-Brewery Syndrome

Auto-Brewery Syndrome (ABS), or gut fermentation syndrome, is a rare condition where gut bacteria and fungi convert carbohydrates into ethanol. The first known case, recorded in 1946 in Africa, involved a 5-year-old boy whose stomach ruptured, revealing an alcohol-scented, foamy liquid.

Despite the rarity of ABS, awareness is growing. Patients like the Toronto woman exemplify the struggle for recognition and proper diagnosis in the medical community. Dr. Zewude’s case study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, aims to shed light on this unusual and often misunderstood condition.

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