Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: Symptoms & Signs

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Medically Reviewed on 5/15/2017

Because the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can be vague and nonspecific, the diagnosis may be missed or not suspected, particularly when vague, flu-like symptoms develop.

Other possible symptoms and signs include

A number of different psychological and neurologic symptoms can also be present. These can include agitation, confusion, depression, lethargy, impulsiveness, hallucinations, confabulation, distractibility, and memory problems. Visual disturbances and seizure, as well as fainting (syncope), can also be related to carbon monoxide toxicity. Severe cases of carbon monoxide poisoning can lead to coma and death.

Causes of carbon monoxide poisoning

Carbon monoxide is produced by burning organic compounds. The most common sources are motor vehicle exhaust from running cars, smoke from fires, engine fumes, and nonelectric heaters. Carbon monoxide poisoning is often associated with malfunctioning or obstructed exhaust systems and with suicide attempts. Sources of carbon monoxide include cigarette smoke, boat engines, charcoal grills, kerosene space heaters, gas water heaters, and smoke inhalation from burning wood or brush in wildfires.

REFERENCES:

Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.

Shochat, Guy N. "Carbon Monoxide Toxicity." Medscape. Dec. 28, 2016. <http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/819987-overview>.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/15/2017

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