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First Aid for Rhubarb Leaves Poisoning

Last updated Feb. 28, 2018

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

Rhubarb Leaves Poisoning is the accidental or intentional intake of the leaves of the plant.

What is Rhubarb Leaves Poisoning?

  • Rhubarb is a flowering plant with large leaves and fleshy stalks. Even though its leaves are toxic, the stalks and roots are edible parts that are used in cooking, in many parts of the world
  • Rhubarb Leaves Poisoning is the accidental or intentional intake of the leaves of the plant
  • The condition is diagnosed based upon the clinical history, combination of signs and symptoms, and additional tests (that may include, in some cases, radiological studies and laboratory tests)

Rhubarb Leaves Poisoning may be also referred to variously as the following:

  • Rheum Officinale Poisoning
  • Rheum Rhabarbarum Poisoning
  • Rhubarb Leaves Toxicity

What are the Causes of Rhubarb Leaves Poisoning?

  • Rhubarb Leaves Poisoning is caused by eating leaves of the rhubarb plant that contains certain toxic substances. Cooking the leaves, especially by adding baking soda, apparently makes them more toxic
  • This intake could be accidental, or in some cases intentional, to bring self-harm
  • The poisonous substances present in the plant leaves are oxalic acid and anthraquinone glycosides
  • The stalks contain toxic substances, but in much lesser quantities. Consuming them in large quantities may also put one at risk for poisoning

Note: The compound can interact with other prescribed or non-prescribed medications in the body. Such interactions may enhance the therapeutic effects of other medications being taken, resulting in undesired side effects.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Rhubarb Leaves Poisoning?

The signs and symptoms can vary from one individual to another. It may be mild in some and severe in others. The signs and symptoms of Rhubarb Leaves Poisoning may include:

  • Burning sensation in the mouth and throat
  • Nausea and vomiting; diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain; stomach pain
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Urine has a reddish discoloration
  • Contact with the eye may result in pain, redness, watery eyes, and potential damage to the cornea of the eye
  • Lethargy and weakness
  • Seizures
  • Coma

Individuals who consume rhubarb plant products regularly are at a high risk for acute kidney failure.

How is First Aid administered for Rhubarb Leaves Poisoning?

First Aid tips for Rhubarb Leaves Poisoning:

  • Call 911 or your local emergency help number immediately, for emergency assistance
  • Call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 (or your local poison control center) for further instructions
  • Provide them with information such as the compound taken, quantity and time of ingestion, age, weight and general health status of affected individual
  • Confirm that the airways are protected; also, ensure breathing and the presence of pulse
  • Clean the mouth to remove any remaining pieces; wipe mouth with a wet cloth
  • If skin exposure or involvement of the eye has occurred, then wash thoroughly with copious amounts of water (for at least 15 minutes)
  • Take individual to emergency room (ER) for further treatment
  • Always try to take the plant or plant product to the ER

The emergency medical health professional might perform the following steps towards treating the condition:

  • Monitor vital signs
  • Gastric lavage for elimination of the substance from the stomach (irrigation using special solutions)
  • Medically manage symptoms and provide breathing support, if necessary
  • Wash skin and eyes repeatedly and thoroughly (irrigation), to eliminate any remaining toxic compound
  • Administer activated charcoal to avoid absorbance of the substance in the body
  • Administer laxatives for elimination of the substance from the body
  • Administer fluids by an intravenous drip line, if necessary

Who should administer First Aid for Rhubarb Leaves Poisoning?

First aid for Rhubarb Leaves Poisoning is administered by healthcare professionals.

  • The individual who is affected, or someone near, should call 911 for emergency assistance (or the local emergency number)
  • They should also call the poison control center at 1-800-222-1222 (or the local poison control center) and follow instructions

What is the Prognosis of Rhubarb Leaves Poisoning?

  • The prognosis of Rhubarb Leaves Poisoning is dependent on the amount of substance consumed, time between consumption and treatment, severity of the symptoms, as well as general health status of the patient
  • If the individual can recover from the symptoms with appropriate medication and early support, the outcome is generally good. In most cases, the affected individuals get better within 3 days
  • In case of severe symptoms due to severe poisoning, it may prolong the time of recovery. Kidney complications and failure may adversely affect the prognosis; deaths due to Rhubarb Leaves Poisoning have been reported

In general, toxicities are common situations in the emergency departments. A majority of the cases are often not fatal, when appropriate treatment is given.

How can Rhubarb Leaves Poisoning be Prevented?

Rhubarb Leaves Poisoning can be prevented by:

  • Properly cooking rhubarb stalks (or other parts of the plant) prior to consumption
  • Avoiding eating wild berries and plants, especially if you have no information about them
  • Following working in the garden or fields, hiking, or camping, always wash hands thoroughly, prior to eating anything
  • Always follow instructions for usage of any health or cosmetic products
  • Keeping cosmetics, medications, and other healthcare products out of reach of children in child-proof containers
  • Being aware of basic first aid steps in case of an emergency (such as inadvertent poisoning)

It is important to give your healthcare provider a complete list of prescription and non-prescription medications that are being currently taken. This will help them in assessing the possible drug interactions within various medications and help avoid/prevent accidental or unintentional toxic drug effects.

What are certain Crucial Steps to be followed?

  • Call 911 (or your local emergency number) for emergency assistance, if symptoms are life-threatening
  • Call Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 (or the local poison control center) and follow the recommended steps
  • It would be helpful if the following information is readily available:
    • Type, amount and time of consumption of the substance
    • Age and weight of the individual
    • And, the overall health status of the individual

What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?

References and Information Sources used for the Article:

Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: July 6, 2017
Last updated: Feb. 28, 2018