Carbon dioxide is a gas produced in the body as a bi-product of the process of metabolism. Contrary to what most people think, the human body requires carbon dioxide in its blood for health living. During the process of respiration, excess carbon dioxide is removed from the body and this is replaced by atmospheric oxygen; however there is still some level of carbon dioxide that remains in the blood. Having a low level of carbon dioxide in the blood or a high level of carbon dioxide in the blood will greatly affect some of the functioning in the body. These functions are associated to those of the cardiovascular system as well as the systems associated with cellular-based respiration. A low level of carbon dioxide in the blood will lead to reduced oxygen reaching the various cells and tissues of the body. An increase in carbon dioxide in the blood is also a problem for the body. It is therefore necessary to maintain the right carbon dioxide range in the body.
All living beings need air to breath. Air is a mixture of gases like carbon dioxide (CO2), oxygen (O2), carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen (N2), hydrogen (H2), and noble gases. All mammals, including human, beings need oxygen to respire and exhale a mixture of carbon dioxide and a small amount of oxygen through their lungs. The major portion of carbon dioxide is present in the body either as bicarbonates (HCO3) or carbonic acid (H2CO3). Moreover, carbon dioxide is also present in a dissolved state in body.
The exchange of gases takes place at the alveoli level, which is an integral part of lungs. It's a passive phenomenon in which diffusion takes place. The balance between the levels of these two gases, viz. carbon dioxide and oxygen, is required for a healthy body. Any pathological condition may arise if the balance between the gases level gets disturbed inside the body.
If the carbon dioxide level arises in body, the state is known as hypercapnia. Similarly, if the level of oxygen reduces in the blood, it is known as hypoxia. All respiratory disorders include the imbalance in blood CO2 and O2 levels. A mild imbalance does not require intensive care but severe cases require medical attention on the spot.
A low level of carbon dioxide in the blood could be very harmful to the body. This condition is brought on by hyperventilation which is a situation where the individual breathes faster than he or she needs to. This may happen as a result of panic attacks or if the individual has consumed some drug that over stimulates the respiratory system. Carbon dioxide works to increase the acidity of the blood. When there is a low level of carbon dioxide in the blood, the blood will be alkaline in nature. This will lead to the blood vessels of the body constricting, thus reducing the flow of blood in the body. This is a situation that can be particularly dangerous as it can lead to reduced blood supply to the brain and other vital organs of the body. This problem leads to diminished consciousness, vision difficulties, muscle cramps and sudden anxiety on the part of the individual.
When the individual has a high level of carbon dioxide in the blood, the condition is known as hypercapnia. One of the most common causes of high levels of carbon dioxide in the body is hypoventilation. This means that the person is not breathing fast enough to support the functions of the body. This occurs when the individual is experiencing diminished consciousness or if he or she has some sort of lung disease or infection. High levels of carbon dioxide in the blood can cause flushed skin, increased blood pressure, muscle twitches, reduced brain and nerve function, headaches, confusion and lethargy. In extreme cases, the patient will need to be given oxygen to breathe so that the balance of oxygen in the blood as also the level of carbon dioxide is brought back to a normal level. When an individual experience an increase of carbon dioxide in the blood, it is important that this is brought back to normal. Long periods of enduring such a condition can lead to damage to internal organs such as the brain. It should be understood that breathing in a carbon dioxide rich environment will also disturb the normal carbon dioxide level in the blood.
The normal carbon dioxide level in the blood falls within the blood carbon dioxide range of 20 to 29 milliequivalent per liter of blood and this could be checked by conducting a blood carbon dioxide test. It should be understood that a change from the normal carbon dioxide level in the blood could be indicative of a number of different conditions. This is just one symptom that there is something awry with the functioning of the body. One could check w The first course of treatment when dealing with abnormal carbon dioxide levels involves the stabilization of level of carbon dioxide by using oxygen or breathing devices. It is only once the level is normalized that the patient will be put through a series of tests to determine what is causing the high or low level of carbon dioxide in the blood.
The symptoms associated with high blood carbon dioxide levels include increased blood pressure, rapid pulse, rubor (redness), muscle twitches, headache, chest-pain, confusion, and fatigue. All of these symptoms depend on the severity of case. The various causes of high carbon dioxide level include vigorous exercise and numerous pathological conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), acidosis, lung infections, and atherosclerosis.
A high carbon dioxide level in body is related to some occupations too. A suitable example is working near a furnace or professional divers where the person has to hold his breath for long to go deep inside the ocean. Another reason for high CO2 is pollution and smoking, as in both the cases the alveoli gets damaged, leading to an impairment in the exchange of gases.
The major organs which maintain the balance between carbon dioxide and oxygen are the liver and kidneys. So, a malfunctioning of any of these organs also leads to hypoxia or hypercapnia.
The initial treatment of unconscious patients with higher levels of carbon dioxide in their blood is artificial respiration and massage on the chest. In the majority of carbon dioxide poisoning cases, patients remain asymptomatic as there appear no specific symptoms of CO2 poisoning. A regular check up and follow up of these patients is advised.
In comparison to carbon monoxide poisoning, cases of carbon dioxide poisoning are less severe. Carbon monoxide (CO) gas is highly poisonous in nature. Even in decimal amounts, it is proved to be fatal, as it has a higher affinity than oxygen to get attached to hemoglobin molecules in blood, leading to hypoxia in the body cells. To maintain the proper balance of CO2 and O2 in blood, one should exercise daily and eat healthy. Though the body has its own defense mechanism, it is good to take precautions as it has rightly been said that prevention is better than cure.