Our fellowship director asked me to do a lecture on osmolar gap. At first I thought that this was an odd topic as toxic alcohols, the standard reason for determining an osmolar gap are relatively rare findings and I was worried I'd be able to find enough to talk about for an hour.
I'm really happy how the lecture turned out. Not my best but pretty strong for a first crack at a new topic.
I structured the topic by looking at patients with low, normal and high anion gaps to go along with the high osmolar gap and started with a case of a high osmolar gap paired with a negative anion gap. I have only seen one negative anion gap and that was a case of hyperkalemia and hypoalbuminemia. This case comes from the Canadian Medical Association Journal. The low anion gap is from the unmeasured cation, lithium. The patient had a lithium level of 14.5 mmol/L.
Lithium is an unmeasured cation which expands the red box and decreases the anion gap.
The differential for a decreased anion gap.
The osmolar gap is driven up because the cation lithium is not part of the calculated osmolality but contributes to the measured osmolality. A unifying theme of osmolar gap is that adulterants that increase the osmolar gap always have relatively low molecular weights. Lithium carbonate does not disappoint with a molecular weight of only 74. Other intoxicants associated with an increased osmolar gap, likewise have a low molecular weight.