Methemoglobinemia: Infants at risk.


Minnesota Department of Health, 625 Robert St. N. St. Paul, MN 55164-0975, United States. Electronic address: [Email]


Methemoglobin is formed when the iron center in hemoglobin is oxidized from ferrous iron to ferric iron. The functional consequence of this change is that hemoglobin is transformed to methemoglobin and cannot oxygenate tissues adequately, causing hypoxia and cyanosis. Infants have unique physiology that increases their risk of developing methemoglobinemia. Infants drink more water per body weight compared to children and adults, have lower NADH cyb5r reductase activity that converts methemoglobin to hemoglobin, and have a higher percentage of fetal hemoglobin, which is easier to convert to methemoglobin. A well-studied exposure to a chemical that can cause methemoglobinemia in infants is nitrate in well water. For the first part specifically about methemoglobin in infants, articles that were recent (2015-now) were given preference over articles that were older. Search terms included: methemoglobin, methemoglobinemia, infant, acquired, congenital, and methylene blue. For the latter half of the paper on nitrate and methemoglobinemia, preference was given to articles that described regionally important cases. In addition, search terms were: Minnesota, methemoglobinemia, nitrate, well water, drinking water, and infant. Acquired methemoglobinemia is rare, yet can still be seen in medical settings, and when an infant is exposed to nitrate in well water above 10 mg/L. To prevent exposure, parents should have their water tested for nitrate before the baby comes home. Physicians should make it practice to ask what the source of drinking water is for newly pregnant women and urge them to test for nitrate and bacteria if using a well. Using bottled water to make formula is also an option, but the best option is still breastfeeding.

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