When talking about venomous snakes and other animals with similar stings, there are two main types of venoms these animals use in order to attack its pray or in acts of defense to save itself. One of these venoms acts on the nervous system while the other acts directly on tissues or else on the components of the blood. Due to its effect on the blood components and its function, the latter type of toxin is given the name ‘hemotoxic venom’ and it is the topic of this article which will discuss its mechanism of action after it enters the body through bite wounds or through any other means.
Description of hemotoxic venom
Although the term hemotoxic suggest that the particular type of toxin only acts on the blood components and its functionality, the same toxin can also act directly on the tissues that lies in its path. Thus, the term hemotoxic venom is a misnomer to a certain extent, although the most notable and the earliest effects of the said toxin may indeed be associated with the blood and its functionality.
Hemolytic effect of hemotoxic venom
When discussing how hemotoxic venom affects various body tissues and blood, destruction of the red blood cells could be highlighted as one of the main mechanisms. Thus, within a few minutes to a few hours of its entry to the blood circulation, the hemotoxic venom can cause ‘hemolysis’ of red blood cells which can eventually lead to a depletion of red blood cells in the circulation. When there aren’t enough red blood cells, the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood would also deplete and many body organs including the brain, heart, liver and the kidneys will suffer as a result. At the same time, the lungs may have to exert an extra effort in order to maintain the oxygen supply, which would manifest as breathlessness and sometimes as chest discomfort due to an overworking heart.
Disseminated intravascular coagulation
Another mechanism that the hemotoxic venom affects within the animal body is the clotting mechanism. A derailment of the clotting mechanism would eventually lead to uncontrollable bleeding within body tissues and to a process known as ‘disseminated intravascular coagulation’ in which the blood clots abruptly within the blood vessels. Such clots can travel to various organs in the body and lead to fatal outcomes such as strokes, pulmonary embolism, heart attack…etc.
Although hemotoxic venom is known to act mainly on the blood, it can also act on the tissues that are lying in its path both directly as well as indirectly. However, when a toxin acts directly on the tissues or body cells it is known as ‘cytotoxic’ while it is believed that hemotoxic venom has both properties to a certain extent.
Other characteristics of hemotoxic venom
While these are the main methods in which hemotoxic venom acts on the body, it takes relatively long time before it reaches its full potential compared to other types of venoms such as neurotoxic venom. However, the hemotoxic venom is said to be rather painful as it exerts its actions, although neurotoxins are relatively swift and pain-free in its interference with the nerve activity.