Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

What is Chronic CO Poisoning?

Chronic CO poisoning usually involves lower levels of the gas in the air and lower blood CO (COHb) concentrations. Exposure usually continues for many days, months, years. The boundary limit between acute and chronic exposure is indistinct (acute - one exposure lasting less than 24 hrs.; chronic - exposures lasting 24 hrs or more).

The word chronic should be reserved to describe the type of exposure, not the subsequent condition / effect / symptom! A damaging effect of CO poisoning, or in fact, any change which persists, should be referred to as a residual effect.

Chronic CO poisoning may not elicit the typical symptoms of (acute) CO poisoning such as headache, nausea, weakness, dizziness, etc. Mucous membranes of the body will almost never be cherry pink. Chronic CO poisoning is often misdiagnosed as chronic fatigue syndrome, a viral or bacterial pulmonary or gastrointestinal infection, a "run-down" condition, immune deficiency, etc. Patients may occasionally present with polycythemia, increased hematocrit, etc.

See Characteristics.

Chronic CO poisoning is, in fact, difficult to diagnose by those not skilled in its presentation. As stated above, it is often mistaken for chronic fatigue syndrome, viral or bacterial pulmonary or gastrointestinal infection, excessive heat, etc. Similar symptoms seen simultaneously in more than one person, and which decrease upon removal from an environment are tip-offs that CO is involved. COHb is usually not excessively elevated. More often than not, by the time air CO or blood CO levels are measured, the presence of CO in the environment has been corrected, making measurement impossible. Computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) generally show no lesion, even when neuropsychological and/or neurologic evaluations may detect functional deficits.

See Clues to Discovery.

This is a subject about which many exciting new data have become available during the past 2 years. Summaries of some of these data are seen on this website. A body of animal data are also available which is of some value in understanding and predicting human responses. See the very useful British study by CO Support and the other studies contained in the section called Chronic CO Poisoning.

See Problems in Dealing with Chronic CO Poisoning.

...... last changed 01/22/01

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