Providence, R.I. - Screening all emergency room patients for carbon monoxide poisoning is a simple yet potentially life-saving practice that can be done even in a high-volume urban hospital, according to new research by emergency physicians at Rhode Island Hospital.
In the largest study of its kind, more than 14,000 patients visiting the hospitals emergency department were routinely screened for exposure to carbon monoxide (CO), a highly toxic gas that can cause brain and heart damage and even death. Researchers identified 11 cases of CO poisoning in which the patients did not know they were being exposed to dangerous levels of the gas. None of the patients exhibited the usual signs of CO poisoning, such as headaches, dizziness and flu-like symptoms.
The study is published online by The Journal of Emergency Medicine.
There is a clear and significant benefit to universal screening for carbon monoxide, especially during the winter months, when carbon monoxide poisoning is most common, said lead author Selim Suner, M.D., M.S., director of emergency preparedness and disaster medicine at Rhode Island Hospital. Unless you have a carbon monoxide detector, its extremely difficult to know if youre being exposed to toxic levels of this gas. If we can identify these cases of unsuspected poisoning early on, we can administer treatment and prevent them and others from being further exposed.
When applied to national emergency room data, the findings suggest that as many as 11,000 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning could potentially go undetected each year in the United States, said Suner, whos also an associate professor of emergency medicine, surgery and engineering at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.
CO exposure is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths across the country, responsible for an estimated 15,000 emergency department visits and 500 unintentional deaths each year - with most occurring
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