Methemoglobinemia: etiology, pharmacology, and clinical management

Ann Emerg Med. 1999 Nov;34(5):646-56. doi: 10.1016/s0196-0644(99)70167-8.


Methemoglobin (MHb) may arise from a variety of etiologies including genetic, dietary, idiopathic, and toxicologic sources. Symptoms vary from mild headache to coma/death and may not correlate with measured MHb concentrations. Toxin-induced MHb may be complicated by the drug's effect on other organ systems such as the liver or lungs. The existence of underlying heart, lung, or blood disease may exacerbate the toxicity of MHb. The diagnosis may be complicated by the effect of MHb on arterial blood gas and pulse oximeter oxygen saturation results. In addition, other dyshemoglobins may be confused with MHb. Treatment with methylene blue can be complicated by the presence of underlying enzyme deficiencies, including glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency. Experimental antidotes for MHb may provide alternative treatments in the future, but require further study.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Methemoglobinemia* / diagnosis
  • Methemoglobinemia* / etiology
  • Methemoglobinemia* / physiopathology
  • Methemoglobinemia* / therapy