The newsletter of the Memory Disorders Project at Rutgers University

Definition about Carbon Monoxide (CO) poisoning

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas which cannot be detected by the senses. It is often produced as a side effect of imperfect combustion, and will accumulate in closed areas. For example, a car left running in a closed garage or the operation of a gas heater in a closed basement can result in toxic levels of CO gas.

Inhalation of CO (small amounts over a long time or large amounts over a short time) can cause carbon monoxide poisoning: Carbon monoxide binds to hemoglobin molecules in the blood, preventing these molecules from carrying oxygen to the cells of the body. Oxygen deprivation, known as hypoxia, can result. 

Symptoms of CO poisoning

Symptoms of CO poisoning include difficulty breathing, pinker-than-normal skin, dizziness, dilated pupils, weakness, and unconsciousness. If CO exposure continues, death or brain damage may result.

In mild cases, a victim of CO poisoning may recover when exposed to fresh air. In more severe cases, victims may require administration of oxygen. Long-term effects of CO poisoning may include various kinds of paralysis, motor complaints, and memory problems including anterograde amnesia.

Further reading: "Gas Attack"

by Catherine E. Myers. Copyright © 2006 Memory Loss and the Brain