Carboxyhemoglobin Levels in Smokers

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Carboxyhemoglobin Levels in Smokers
Smoking increases blood carboxyhemoglobin levels. (Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Cigarettes contain a multitude of harmful substances, one of which is carbon monoxide. When carbon monoxide is combined with haemoglobin, carboxyhemoglobin (COHb) is formed. Since carbon monoxide has a much higher affinity for haemoglobin than oxygen does, the carboxyhemoglobin levels are higher in those with more carbon monoxide exposure, such as smokers.

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Haemoglobin is a protein molecule found in red blood cells. It transports oxygen from the lungs to body tissue as well as ridding the tissue of carbon dioxide by carrying it to the lungs to be exhaled. A haemoglobin level is one of the measurements included in a complete blood count (CBC). When carbon monoxide binds with haemoglobin to form carboxyhemoglobin, it reduces the efficacy of the haemoglobin and the capacity of the blood to transport oxygen.

Carboxyhemoglobin Blood Levels

Nonsmokers have a carboxyhemoglobin level of less than 1.5 per cent. Smokers, on the other hand, have levels ranging from 3 to 15 per cent. A level of 10 per cent is the point at which the average person will begin to experience mild signs of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Dangers of Increased Carboxyhemoglobin

Increased carboxyhemoglobin blood levels caused by smoking results in a compensating increase in overall haemoglobin, which can mask conditions such as anaemia. Other conditions diagnosed on the basis of haemoglobin threshold levels can be missed and go untreated as well, including nutritional deficiencies, malignancies and inflammatory conditions. Lower exercise tolerance and increased risk for heart attack during exercise is also observed in individuals with elevated levels of carboxyhemoglobin.

Reducing Carboxyhemoglobin Levels

The cessation of a smoking habit reduces smoking-related blood carboxyhemoglobin levels to near normal levels after as little as 12 hours after the last cigarette. Regular aerobic exercise such as jogging also reduces carbon monoxide in smokers, but because of the increased risk for heart attack associated with smoking, check with your physician before commencing a new exercise regime.

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