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The Effects of Too Much Carbon Dioxide in the Blood

author image Rob Callahan
Rob Callahan lives in Minneapolis, where he covers style, culture and the arts for Vita.MN and "l'├ętoile Magazine." His work has earned awards in the fields of journalism, social media and the arts. Callahan graduated from Saint Cloud State University in 2001 with a Bachelor's degree in philosophy.
The Effects of Too Much Carbon Dioxide in the Blood
Excess CO2 can affect you just like a physical obstruction to breathing. Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a gas that's always present in your blood. It is the waste product generated as your body uses up oxygen, and it is expelled from the lungs when you exhale. At normal levels, its presence has no measurable adverse effects on you, but if your breathing is compromised or you are exposed to large amounts of this gas, you can experience a wide range of side effects, some of which include permanent injury and death.

Respiratory Effects

Carbon dioxide is known as an asphyxiant, which is a substance that bonds with your blood in place of oxygen. The website eMedMag.com notes that while most simple asphyxiants do not have any inherent toxicity of their own, cases of CO2 poisoning have been linked to central nervous system damage and permanent deterioration of respiratory functions. Because of these findings, CO2 is considered not just a simple asphyxiant, but a gas with acute systemic effects as well.

Cardiovascular Effects

If your blood becomes saturated with too much CO2, you develop the condition known as hypercapnia. Increased levels of CO2 also affect the pH level of your blood, turning it more acidic. This condition is called acidemia and, if prolonged, causes acidosis, which is injury to the body's cells by a rise in acidity that leads to faltering functions of the heart. Some possible outcomes of this interference with your heart include low blood pressure and cardiac arrhythmia.

Nerve Damage

HealthNewsFlash.com details the levels of damage your central nervous system can experience as a result of high acidity. These conditions are the result of temporary or permanent nerve damage brought on by acidemia, and include delirium, hallucinations, seizures, respiratory failure, coma or death.


As an asphyxiant, carbon dioxide displaces breathable oxygen and impairs pulmonary gas exchange. While asphyxiation is commonly associated with choking on a physical object or drowning, you can suffocate on CO2 without any visible abnormality or obstruction of your breathing. If the oxygen content of the air you breathe is insufficient, you slowly suffocate due to selective oxygen depletion until you experience permanent damage or death.

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