Lead Poisoning

General Illness Information


Common Name:

Lead poisoning

Medical Term: None Specified

Description: Increased levels of lead in the blood, to the point of toxicity.  Lead is an element with no biological value. It is found in a number of commercial and industrial products, namely storage batteries, paints, pottery, plumbing, gasoline and in some traditional ethnic medications. Very small amounts of lead finds its way into everyone, and causes no problems. Too much lead can cause serious consequences e.g. as little as 0.5 mg can cause acute toxicity in children.

However, lead toxicity usually results from chronic repeated exposure and is rare after a single ingestion. It usually affects children from 6 months to 6 years of age and adults in certain occupations.

Causes: Inhalation of lead dust or fumes, or ingestion of lead. The body removes lead very slowly, so it accumulates in the body tissues, particularly the bones.

Prevention:

  • Screening of blood-levels in children if exposure to lead is suspected.
  • If ceramic tableware is purchased outside the United States or Canada, be cautious, and use it for decorative purposes only.
  • Remove imported mini blinds which have been found to contain lead.

Signs & Symptoms

Lead primarily affects the gastrointestinal, the nervous system and the blood. Often it goes undetected initially as the signs and symptoms are non specific and exposure is not suspected.

Lead poisoning usually causes:

  • Abdominal pain.
  • Constipation.
  • Headaches.
  • Irritability.
  • Fatigue and weight loss.
  • Severe poisoning or toxicity may cause:
  • Muscular weakness and paralysis.
  • Seizures and coma
  • Cerebral encephalopathy (lead encephalopathy).

Risk Factors

  • Children are at increased risk because of incomplete development of the blood-brain barrier before age 3 years allowing more lead into the central nervous system.
  • Common childhood behaviors such as frequent hand to mouth activity and pica (repeated ingestion of nonfood products) greatly increase the risk of ingesting lead.
  • Children may lick or eat the old paint in older buildings.
  • Dust from clothing of workers exposed to lead dust. This may be absorbed by the skin or inhaled.
  • Drinking water contaminated with lead dissolved in water from lead or lead-soldered plumbing.
  • Eating foods from lead glazed ceramics, especially with acidic food or drink.
  • Contact with contaminated soil/dust near lead industries.
  • Hobbies or occupations such as glazed pottery making, lead soldering, painting, preparing lead shot, stained-glass making, car or boat repair, etc.
  • Occupational exposure – plumbers, pipe fitters, lead miners, auto repairers, glass manufacturers, shipbuilders, printers, plastic manufacturers, lead smelters and refiners, and others exposed to lead at work.

Diagnosis & Treatment

Diagnostic tests include blood and urine studies to measure lead levels, and X-rays of the bones and abdomen to reveal lead deposits.

General Measures:

  • Treatment involves the avoidance of further exposure to the lead, and for some patients, medical therapy that will help the body excrete the lead.
  • A report should be made to the local health department. Complete inspection of home or work-place to determine source of lead. Screening all family members is important.
  • If the source is in the home, the patient must reside elsewhere until the source is eliminated.
  • Correct iron deficiency or other nutritional deficiencies present.
  • For patients with encephalopathy, maintain the airway, and treat convulsions.

Medications:

The indications for using chelating agents depends upon the patient’s blood levels and clinical condition. Chelating agents bind the lead compounds, making them less toxic, and enhance their removal from the body.

Activity:

No restrictions.

Diet:

  • Consume adequate calcium and iron.
  • Eat a low-fat diet to reduce absorption and retention of lead.

Possible Complications :

  • Long-term lead exposure may cause chronic renal failure, gout, lead line (blue-black) on gingival tissue.
  • High blood pressure.
  • In females, there is a possibility of miscarriages.
  • If brain damage occurs, permanent problems (mental retardation, seizure disorder, blindness, muscle weakness) may occur.

Prognosis

Symptomatic lead poisoning without any apparent brain damage generally improves with treatment, but subtle central nervous system toxicity may be long lasting or permanent.

Other

‘Nothing Specified’.