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Lead Poisoning: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Last Updated: Feb 25, 2020

What is Lead Poisoning?

Lead poisoning is a fatal condition in which excess lead builds up in the body. Lead is a metal that is toxic and considered as a strong poison. Lead is a material that is used in many household articles like lead paints, toys, art supplies, gasoline products, contaminated dust. The lead was used earlier in many household products. Governments of many countries have banned the use of lead in household products.

Old house paint is the main source of lead. This lead when it reaches the body can cause lead poisoning. It is a fatal condition that affects children and adults. Children are most affected because their nerves and brain are still in the growth stage. Children put their fingers in the mouth after touching products contaminated with lead. It can be treated, however, the damage done to the body cannot be reversed.

What are the symptoms of lead poisoning?

Lead poisoning symptoms in children:

  • Difficulty in learning
  • Irritability
  • Weight loss
  • Loss in appetite
  • Delay in development
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Problem or loss of hearing
  • Constipation
  • Seizures

Lead poisoning symptoms in newborns

  • Low birth weight
  • Premature birth
  • Having a slow growth

Lead poisoning symptoms in adults

What causes Lead Poisoning?

Lead is a kind of metal found in the earth’s crust and is exposed to the environment by activities like mining, burning of fossil fuels. These are the causes of lead poisoning:

  • Lead in paint: lead is used in paints which were used in painting the houses or furniture and also used for painting toys of children has been banned nowadays as it is harmful to children.
  • Water pipes and canned goods: lead in the water is exposed by the water pipes which are made up of brass, lead, and copper.
  • Soil: lead particles can be found in soils after the particles form gasoline and particles settle down and lead to contamination of soil. The major problem of lead contamination is found in places with an urban setting.
  • Household dust: There are particles of lead found the household dust which comes inside through paints or when the outside dust is brought inside.
  • Toys: lead can be found in toys sometimes or from the products which are exported from other countries.
  • Cosmetics: An eye cosmetic from Nigeria named Trio is said to have lead poisoning.

How are children exposed to lead?

Children are exposed to lead by the toys which are made up of lead or through paint chips which are made up of lead. Children must be kept away from lead paint chips because swallowing it can be toxic. Playing is soil which is contaminated with lead can also be harmful thus after coming home hands must be washed properly before eating. Children must also be kept away from Imported candies, imported cosmetics, toys and jewellery which are imported, pottery and ceramics.


What are the effects of lead poisoning?

  • On enzymes: Lead effects on the working of enzymes and also damage some of them. Enzymes are the types of proteins which help in carrying out multiple functions of the body. Lead binds with the enzymes, unlike the other metals.
  • On the nervous system: The organ in our body which gets affected by lead the most is our brain. There is a disruption of myelin coating of nerves due to lead coating thus occurring problems in the transmission of messages.

Who is at risk for lead poisoning?

Infants and young children are more exposed to lead poisoning as they play with toys, and in soil.

How is lead poisoning diagnosed?

The blood test is the basic steps for doing the lead poisoning test. The small amount of blood is taken from your veins. The level of lead in the blood is measured in micrograms per deciliter .

How is lead poisoning treated?

Lead poisoning treatment:

  • Chelation therapy:

    This therapy is recommended to children who have 45 mcg/dl level of lead in their blood and the adults having high levels of lead in their blood are treated. In the treatment, medication is given so that the lead does not get absorbed with blood and excreted from the body in the form of urine or faeces.

  • EDTA chelation therapy:

    When the lead is found to be 45 mcg/dl in blood chelation therapy is employed using calcium disodium ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid .

Can lead poisoning be prevented?

Lead poisoning prevention:

  • Cleaning dust: Floors and mats which are generally covered with dust must be cleaned or mopped.
  • Washing toys and hands: Toys of the children must be washed regularly as it can contain particles of lead which are not good for children. Hands of children should also be washed before eating or after playing.
  • Removing shoes before entering the house: While entering the house shoes must be removed as it keeps the soil contaminated with lead outside.
  • Children should be prevented from playing in soil: Children should not be left alone to play with sand as it harmful for them else they must be provided with a sandbox to play with.
  • Eating a healthy diet: A good and healthy diet is very necessary as it does not let the lead to be absorbed in the body and blood. In order to absorb the low level of lead in body children must be given Vitamin C and iron.
  • Keeping well-maintained house: The house should be well maintained and there should not be the use of lead paints for painting the walls and furniture.

How to get rid of lead poisoning?

To start with the treatment of lead poisoning, the first step is to remove the source of contamination or level of thing which is causing the problem must be reduced. Reducing the use of lead in houses by removing old paint can also be done as a basic treatment.


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Written ByDr. Rlv Phani Kumar Diploma in Diabetes,MD,MBBSInternal Medicine
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