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What are carbon monoxide symptoms?

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Quick Answer

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, weakness, chest pain, confusion and nausea, according to the Centers for Disease Control. High levels of carbon monoxide can cause death, and people who are sleeping sometimes die from carbon monoxide poisoning before experiencing any symptoms.

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Carbon monoxide is an odorless gas created by combustion reactions such as those that occur in gasoline engines, lanterns, gas ranges and heating systems, explains the Centers for Disease Control. Carbon monoxide can build up in a closed space, and people present in that space breathe it into their lungs. Red blood cells are designed to pick up oxygen and carry it to the body's cells, but when carbon monoxide is present in the lungs, the red blood cells pick up carbon monoxide molecules faster than they can pick up oxygen. This prevents the body's tissues from getting the oxygen that they need, leading to tissue destruction and sometimes even death.

People can take several steps to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Heating systems and other gas-powered systems should be checked by a technician once per year to ensure they are vented properly. Chimneys should be cleaned yearly, since a blocked chimney can cause carbon monoxide to build up inside of a home. Charcoal and gas grills should never be used indoors, and generators should never be used inside the home or near a window or door.

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