Laboratory assessment of oxygenation in methemoglobinemia

Shannon Haymond, Rohit Cariappa, Charles S. Eby, Mitchell G. Scott*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

177 Scopus citations


Background: This case conference reviews laboratory methods for assessing oxygenation status: arterial blood gases, pulse oximetry, and CO-oximetry. Caveats of these measurements are discussed in the context of two methemoglobinemia cases. Cases: Case 1 is a woman who presented with increased shortness of breath, productive cough, chest pain, nausea, fever, and cyanosis. CO-oximetry indicated a carboxyhemoglobin (COHb) fraction of 24.9%. She was unresponsive to O2 therapy, and no source of carbon monoxide could be noted. Case 2 is a man who presented with syncope, chest tightness, and signs of cyanosis. His arterial blood was dark brown, and CO-oximetry showed a methemoglobin (MetHb) fraction of 23%. Issues: Oxygen saturation (So 2) can be measured by three approaches that are often used interchangeably, although the measured systems are quite different. Pulse oximetry is a noninvasive, spectrophotometric method to determine arterial oxygen saturation (SaO2). CO-oximetry is a more complex and reliable method that measures the concentration of hemoglobin derivatives in the blood from which various quantities such as hemoglobin derivative fractions, total hemoglobin, and saturation are calculated. Blood gas instruments calculate the estimated O2 saturation from empirical equations using pH and PO2 values. In most patients, the results from these methods will be virtually identical, but in cases of increased dyshemoglobin fractions, including methemoglobinemia, it is crucial that the distinctions and limitations of these methods be understood. Conclusions: SO2 calculated from pH and PO2 should be interpreted with caution as the algorithms used assume normal O2 affinity, normal 2,3-diphosphoglycerate concentrations, and no dyshemoglobins or hemoglobinopathies. CO-oximeter reports should include the dyshemoglobin fractions in addition to the oxyhemoglobin fraction. In cases of increased MetHb fraction, pulse oximeter values trend toward 85%, underestimating the actual oxygen saturation. Hemoglobin M variants may yield normal MetHb and increased COHb or sulfhemoglobin fractions measured by CO-oximetry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)434-444
Number of pages11
JournalClinical chemistry
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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