Clinical features and management of cyanide poisoning

Clin Pharm. 1986 Sep;5(9):737-41.


The pathophysiology, clinical features, and management of cyanide toxicity are reviewed and sources of cyanide are listed. Cyanide is a deadly poison that is found in many foods and household and industrial products, including some that are readily available. Cyanide binds with cytochrome oxidase, the enzyme responsible for oxidative phosphorylation, and paralyzes cellular respiration. Because the tissues cannot use oxygen that is delivered, aerobic metabolism ceases. The signs and symptoms of cyanide poisoning reflect the extent of cellular hypoxia. Manifestations may include respiratory abnormalities (progressing from tachypnea and dyspnea to respiratory depression and apnea), hemodynamic instability, metabolic acidosis, and, possibly, local irritant effects after oral ingestion of cyanide. The mainstays of therapy are 100% oxygen and specific antidotes to cyanide. Sequential treatment with amyl nitrite by inhalation, intravenous sodium nitrite 3%, and intravenous sodium thiosulfate 25% is directed toward decreasing the amount of cyanide available for cellular binding. Nitrites convert hemoglobin to methemoglobin, which reacts with cyanide to form cyanomethemoglobin. Sodium thiosulfate serves as a source of sulfur groups, which are needed for conversion of cyanide to thiocyanate, a compound that is relatively less toxic and is excreted renally. Supportive care also is important. Cobalt EDTA, hydroxocobalamin, and aminophenols have also been used but are not considered standard treatments. Cyanide poisoning is a medical emergency that requires prompt recognition and immediate and aggressive treatment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antidotes / administration & dosage
  • Cyanides / metabolism
  • Cyanides / poisoning*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Oxygen Inhalation Therapy


  • Antidotes
  • Cyanides