Structural Biochemistry/Carbon Monoxide: A Stealthy Killer

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Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless and ordorless gas that is responsible for more than half of the yearly death worldwide. CO has a greater affinity for hemoglobin than oxygen and when it binds to hemoglobin it is called a carboxyhemoglobin, COHb. This can be fatal because not only does it lessen the amount of protein able to bind to oxygen, but it increases the affinity for oxygen dramatically. This is not necessarily good because even though it binds well with oxygen now, it will less likely want to release the oxygen into the tissue because it wants to be bound to the oxygen more. Therefore very little oxygen will be released into the tissue after it binds to the lungs. This leads to oxygen deprivation in the tissue that can become severe rapidly. This will eventually lead to the person’s death because of respiratory failure. In general death will occur if COHb levels are above 60%. To protect oneself from accidental exposure to high levels of carbon monoxide in the house, install a simple CO detector.

The effects of COHb (Carboxyhemoglobin[edit]

1) If COHb levels are below 10% no effect
2) If COHb levels are at 15% the person may experience headaches
3) If COHb levels are between 20%-30% the headache is severe and the person may experience nausea, dizziness, confusion, disorientation, and visual disturbances
4) If COHb levels are between 30%-50% the neurological symptoms become more severe
5) If COHb nears 50% the person will lose consciousness and sink into coma and respiratory failure may follow.

Sources of Carbon Monoxide[edit]

1) Engines
2) Household Furnace
3) Tobacco smoke
4) Byproducts of natural processes

Reference[edit]

1. Nelson, David L., Michael M. Cox, and Albert L. Lehninger. "Carbon Monoxide: A Stealthy Killer." Lehninger: Principles of Biochemistry. New York: W. H. Freeman and, 2005. N. pag. Print.