Short-Term Effects of Carbon Monoxide Exposure on the Exercise Performance of Subjects with Coronary Artery Disease

Elizabeth N. Allred, Eugene R. Bleecker, Bernard R. Chaitman, Thomas E. Dahms, Sidney O. Gottlieb, Jack D. Hackney, Marcello Pagano, Ronald H. Selvester, Sandra M. Walden, Jane Warren

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Patients with atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease may be adversely affected by the presence of carboxyhemoglobin, even at low concentrations. We investigated the effects of carbon monoxide exposure on myocardial ischemia during exercise in 63 men with documented coronary artery disease. On each test day, subjects performed two symptom-limited incremental exercise tests on a treadmill; the tests were separated by a recovery period and 50 to 70 minutes of exposure to either room air or air containing one of two concentrations of carbon monoxide (117±4.4 ppm or 253±6.1 ppm). The order of exposure was assigned randomly. On each occasion, neither the subjects nor the study personnel knew whether the subjects had been exposed to room air or to one of the concentrations of carbon monoxide. Exposure to room air resulted in a mean carboxyhemoglobin level of 0.6 percent, exposure to the lower level of carbon monoxide resulted in a carboxyhemoglobin level of 2.0 percent, and exposure to the higher level of carbon monoxide resulted in a level of 3.9 percent. An effect of carbon monoxide on myocardial ischemia was demonstrated objectively by electrocardiographic changes during exercise. We observed a decrease of 5.1 percent (90 percent confidence interval, 1.5 to 8.7 percent; P = 0.02) and a decrease of 12.1 percent (90 percent confidence interval, 9.0 to 15.3 percent; P≤0.0001) in the length of time to a threshold ischemic ST-segment change (ST end point) after carbon monoxide exposures that produced carboxyhemoglobin levels of 2.0 percent and 3.9 percent, respectively. The length of time to the onset of angina decreased by 4.2 percent (90 percent confidence interval, 0.7 to 7.9 percent; P = 0.054) at the 2.0 percent carboxyhemoglobin level and by 7.1 percent (90 percent confidence interval, 3.1 to 10.9 percent; P = 0.004) at the 3.9 percent carboxyhemoglobin level. Significant dose–response relations were found in both the change in the length of time to the ST end point (P≤0.0001) and the change in the length of time to the onset of angina (P = 0.02). We conclude that low levels of carboxyhemoglobin exacerbate myocardial ischemia during graded exercise in subjects with coronary artery disease. (N Engl J Med 1989;321:1426–32.), CARBON monoxide is a ubiquitous and toxic air pollutant produced by the incomplete combustion of carbonaceous substances. Two major sources of carbon monoxide exposure are automotive emissions and cigarette smoke.1 In addition, exposure to high levels of carbon monoxide can occur in numerous occupational settings. The adverse health effects of carbon monoxide are thought to be related primarily to the development of tissue hypoxia. Relatively low concentrations of carboxyhemoglobin resulting from exposure to ambient carbon monoxide are usually not associated with adverse health effects. However, patients with atherosclerotic coronary artery disease are potentially at increased risk of adverse effects because….

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1426-1432
Number of pages7
JournalNew England Journal of Medicine
Issue number21
StatePublished - Nov 23 1989
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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