Harvard Heart Letter

Heart Beat: Heart hurt by carbon monoxide poisoning

Heart Beat

Heart hurt by carbon monoxide poisoning

Carbon monoxide poisons 40,000 Americans a year. Survivors sometimes have long-lasting brain damage that leads to memory loss, trouble learning, or other problems. What hadn't been recognized is that carbon monoxide poisoning also has long-term effects on the heart.

Minnesota researchers looked at the health records of 230 adults treated for moderate to severe carbon monoxide poisoning. Just over one-third showed signs of heart damage, measured in the hospital by the same chemical changes used to diagnose heart attacks. Over nearly eight years of follow-up, 38% of those with heart damage died, mostly of cardiovascular causes, compared to 15% of those without heart damage.

This work should prompt emergency room doctors to check people with carbon monoxide poisoning for signs of heart damage. On a personal level, it means regular heart checkups if you've ever been poisoned by carbon monoxide. A fact sheet on carbon monoxide is available from the Centers for Disease Control at www.cdc.gov/co.

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