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Clinical features, diagnosis, and treatment of methemoglobinemia

Author
Josef T Prchal, MD
Section Editors
Stanley L Schrier, MD
Donald H Mahoney, Jr, MD
Michele M Burns, MD, MPH
Deputy Editors
Jennifer S Tirnauer, MD
Carrie Armsby, MD, MPH

INTRODUCTION

There are two types of methemoglobinemia: congenital and acquired.

Congenital methemoglobinemia is characterized by diminished enzymatic reduction of methemoglobin (ie, hemoglobin with its iron in the ferric or oxidized state, which cannot reversibly bind oxygen) back to functional hemoglobin (ie, hemoglobin with its iron in the ferrous or reduced state). Affected patients have life-long cyanosis but are generally asymptomatic.

Acquired methemoglobinemia typically results from ingestion of specific drugs or agents that cause an increase in the production of methemoglobin. It can be a fatal disease.

The pathophysiology, clinical features, diagnosis, and treatment of methemoglobinemia will be reviewed here. The genetics and pathogenesis of methemoglobinemia are discussed separately but will be briefly summarized below. (See "Genetics and pathogenesis of methemoglobinemia".)

PATHOPHYSIOLOGY

Methemoglobin is an altered state of hemoglobin in which the ferrous (Fe++) irons of heme are oxidized to the ferric (Fe+++) state. The ferric hemes of methemoglobin are unable to bind oxygen. In addition, the oxygen affinity of any remaining ferrous hemes in the hemoglobin tetramer is increased [1]. As a result, the oxygen dissociation curve is "left-shifted" (figure 1). (See "Genetic disorders of hemoglobin oxygen affinity".)

                                       

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