Dyshemoglobinemia Dealings


Dyshemoglobinemias are mainly caused by exposure to exogenous xenobiotics although it can be hereditary (1). The occurrence is result of altered hemoglobin (Hb) preventing its normal function of carrying oxygen (1). The anemia, hypoxia, cyanosis and associated problems can be life-threatening (2).


Acquired methemoglobinimeas occur when dysfunctional hemoglobin form methemoglobin, whereas mutated amino acids make up a wall against heme or form the site involved in binding oxygen (3).

Carboxyhemoglobinemia is a form that results of exposure to carbon monoxide or nitrous oxide poisoning (4-6). It can occur as a result of overexposure to automobile exhaust, smoke from a fire or tobacco or nitrous oxide (4-6).

Sulfhemoglobinemia is a serious form that can occur when overexposed to sulfonamides or sulfur compounds such as when taking certain drugs (2;7;8).


Pulse oximetry is a non-invasive way to detect dyshemoglobinemia through monitoring the oxygenation of the blood (9;10). Invasive approaches of carbon monoxide oximetry or blood gas analysis also exist (10;11). Symptoms include cognitive changes, headache, fatigue, dizziness and syncope (12). If methemoglobinemia is greater, then dysrhythmias, seizures or coma can occur (12).


An obvious measure is to eliminate exposure to the causal agent. Oxygen therapy can be used to increase oxygen carried by normal hemoglobin and, in extreme cases, blood transfusions may be necessary (12).

Reference List

1. Tintinalli JE, Kelen GD, Stapcynski JS. Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide. Columbus, OH: McGraw-Hill Professional, 2003.
2. Lambert M, Sonnet J, Mahieu P, Hassoun A. Delayed sulfhemoglobinemia after acute dapsone intoxication. J Toxicol Clin Toxicol 1982;19:45-50.
3. Devlin TM. Textbook of Biochemistry with Clinical Correlations. Philadelphia: Wiley-Liss, 2002.
4.Shperling IA, Novitskii VV, Riazantseva NV et al. [Mechanisms underlying changes in functional properties of red cells in acute action of carbon monoxide]. Patol Fiziol Eksp Ter 2008;18-20.
5. Rusca M, Oddo M, Schaller MD, Liaudet L. Carboxyhemoglobin formation as an unexpected side effect of inhaled nitric oxide therapy in severe acute respiratory distress syndrome. Crit Care Med 2004;32:2537-9.
6. Ren X, Dorrington KL, Robbins PA. Respiratory control in humans after 8 h of lowered arterial PO2, hemodilution, or carboxyhemoglobinemia. J Appl Physiol 2001;90:1189-95.
7. Flexman AM, Del VG, Schwarz SK. Dark green blood in the operating theatre. Lancet 2007;369:1972.
8. Martin DG, Watson CE, Gold MB, Woodard CL, Jr., Baskin SI. Topical anesthetic-induced methemoglobinemia and sulfhemoglobinemia in macaques: a comparison of benzocaine and lidocaine. J Appl Toxicol 1995;15:153-8.
9. Sinex JE. Pulse oximetry: principles and limitations. Am J Emerg Med 1999;17:59-67.
10. Michaelis G, Biscoping J, Salzer A, Hempelmann G. [Effect of dyshemoglobinemia (methemoglobinemia and carboxyhemoglobinemia) on accuracy of measurement in pulse oximetry in operations of long duration]. Anasth Intensivther Notfallmed 1988;23:102-8.
11. Akhtar J, Johnston BD, Krenzelok EP. Mind the gap. J Emerg Med 2007;33:131-2.
12. Masimo corporation. Demystifying Methemoglobinemia. Available at: http://www.masimo.com/pdf/whitepaper/LAB4280A.PDF

Published by David Despain, MS, CFS

David is a science and health writer living on Long Island, New York. He's written for a variety of publications including Scientific American, Outside Online, the American Society for Nutrition's (ASN) Nutrition Notes Daily, and Institute of Food Technologists' (IFT) Food Technology magazine and Live! blog. He's also covered new findings reported at scientific meetings including Experimental Biology, AAAS, AOCS, CASW, Sigma Xi, IFT, and others on his personal blog "Evolving Health." David is also an active member of organizations including the National Association of Science Writers (NASW), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the American Society for Nutrition, the Institute of Food Technologists, and the National Audubon Society. David has a master's degree in human nutrition from the University of Bridgeport, and a bachelor's degree in English from University of Illinois at Springfield. He also earned his Certified Food Scientist credential from the Institute of Food Technologists.

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