A Review on Ingested Cyanide: Risks, Clinical Presentation, Diagnostics, and Treatment Challenges

Tara B. Hendry-Hofer, Patrick C. Ng, Alyssa E. Witeof, Sari B. Mahon, Matthew Brenner, Gerry R. Boss, Vikhyat S. Bebarta

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


Cyanide, a metabolic poison, is a rising chemial threat and ingestion is the most common route of exposure. Terrorist organizations have threatened to attack the USA and international food and water supplies. The toxicokinetics and toxicodynamics of oral cyanide are unique, resulting in high-dose exposures, severe symptoms, and slower onset of symptoms. There are no FDA-approved therapies tested for oral cyanide ingestions and no approved intramuscular or oral therapies, which would be valuable in mass casualty settings. The aim of this review is to evaluate the risks of oral cyanide and its unique toxicokinetics, as well as address the lack of available rapid diagnostics and treatments for mass casualty events. We will also review current strategies for developing new therapies. A review of the literature using the PRISMA checklist detected 7284 articles, screened 1091, and included 59 articles or other reports. Articles referenced in this review were specific to risk, clinical presentation, diagnostics, current treatments, and developing therapies. Current diagnostics of cyanide exposure can take hours or days, which can delay treatment. Moreover, current therapies for cyanide poisoning are administered intravenously and are not specifically tested for oral exposures, which can result in higher cyanide doses and unique toxicodynamics. New therapies developed for oral cyanide exposures that are easily delivered, safe, and can be administered quickly by first responders in a mass casualty event are needed. Current research is aimed at identifying an antidote that is safe, effective, easy to administer, and has a rapid onset of action.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)128-133
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Medical Toxicology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 15 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Cyanide
  • Diagnosis
  • Ingestion
  • Treatment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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