Carboxyhemoglobin
(COHb)

Alternate Names

  • Carbon Monoxide (CO)

Carbon monoxide is colorless, odorless, and tasteless and binds 200 times more easily to hemoglobin than oxygen. When carbon monoxide takes up space on hemoglobin it restricts the amount of oxygen that is available to all the tissues of the body, and also causes the red blood cell to hold on tighter to the oxygen that is already bound. Less oxygen is available for all the cells of the body, leading to the tissues being starved for oxygen. Carboxyhemoglobin levels are used to diagnose carbon monoxide poisoning, and to monitor how well you are responding to treatment.

Sources of carbon monoxide poisoning are fire, exhaust fumes, cigarette smoking, and unvented or defective natural gas, propane, diesel, gasoline, kerosene stoves or generators. Signs of mild carbon monoxide poisoning are dizziness, headache, difficulty breathing, weakness and a general feeling of illness. Signs of moderate to severe carbon monoxide poisoning are confusion, severe headache, bright red blood and mucous membranes, and coma (which may lead to death).

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