January 24, 2006

Carbon monoxide poisoning kills years later: study

CHICAGO (Reuters) - People who survive a toxic encounter with carbon monoxide, one of the most common types of accidental poisoning in the United States, run a risk of death years later because of damaged heart muscle, according to a study published on Tuesday.

The Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation said a look at 230 patients treated for moderate to severe poisoning from the colorless, odorless gas found that 37 percent suffered heart muscle injury. Of that group nearly a quarter died within the next seven years.

"Most of us believed that since this was a one-time exposure to carbon monoxide, that if you were going to have problems you'd have them right away," said Timothy Henry, a physician involved in the study.

"I think the key result of this finding is that the effect of carbon monoxide poisoning has effects not only today, but consequences down the line," he added. "The fact that almost 40 percent of patients had heart damage related to the carbon monoxide poisoning ... was much higher than we expected."

Carbon monoxide poisoning can happen with abnormal exposure to gases from any type of combustion, including furnaces and automobiles. About 40,000 people in the United States are treated in emergency rooms for it every year.

The report, published in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association, recommended that victims be screened for heart damage and that more study be done on the risks they face.