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Lead poisoning


Disease: Lead poisoning Lead poisoning
Category: Poisoning

Disease Definition:

In case lead builds up in the body, usually over a period of months or years, lead poisoning occurs. Serious health problems could be caused by even the smallest amounts of lead. Lead poisoning could be fatal at very high levels. Children that are under the age of 6 are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning, and their mental and physical development could be severely affected.


The most common sources of lead poisoning in children are lead-contaminated dust in older buildings and lead-based paint. Contaminated air, soil, water, in addition to some toys and cosmetics are some of the other sources of lead poisoning. People could take steps to help protect themselves and their family, despite the fact that lead is still found widely in the environment.

Work Group:

Symptoms, Causes


People who seem healthy could have high blood levels of lead. So lead poisoning could be hard to detect at first. Usually, until dangerous amounts have accumulated, signs and symptoms won't appear.


Usually, the first target of lead is the oxygen-carrying protein in red blood cells (hemoglobin), despite the fact that it could affect almost every part of the body. Lead also attacks the nervous system over time.


Some of the signs and symptoms in children may include:


  • Abdominal pain
  • Unusual paleness from anemia
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue and sluggishness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Learning difficulties
  • Weight loss
  • Constipation
  • Vomiting


Slowed growth and learning difficulties are some of the signs and symptoms of babies that are still in the womb and are exposed to lead through their mothers.These problems could sometimes persist beyond childhood.


Even though the people primarily at risk are children, however, lead poisoning could be dangerous even for adults. The risk of high blood pressure and mental decline in the future could be increased by exposure to amounts of lead that are too low to cause symptoms in the short term. Some of the signs and symptoms of lead poisoning in adults may include:


  • Abdominal pain
  • Pain, numbness or tingling of the extremities
  • Reduced sperm count or abnormal sperm
  • Headache
  • Miscarriage or premature birth in pregnant women
  • Fatigue
  • Mood disorders
  • Memory loss
  • Muscular weakness


Lead is the metal that occurs naturally in the earth's crust. However, it has become more widespread due to human activity, such as mining, burning fossil fuels and manufacturing. Lead is still used in pipes, roofing materials, batteries, some cosmetics, solder and pottery. Lead also used to be a key ingredient in paint and gasoline, but not anymore.


Some of the sources of lead contamination are:

Household dust:

Household dust could contain lead from soil brought in from outside or from paint chips.


Lead-contaminated soil is a major problem around highways and in some urban settings. Lead particles that settle on the soil from gasoline or paint could last for years.

Traditional remedies and cosmetics:

The use of certain traditional medicines from India and other South Asian countries has been linked to some cases of lead poisoning. Kohl, which is a traditional cosmetic usually used as eyeliner, has high levels of lead. Another example is letargirio, which is a peach-colored powder popularly used in the Dominican Republic. This product shouldn't be used because it contains very high levels of lead.


Lead particles could be released into tap water by lead pipes, brass plumbing fixtures and copper pipes that are soldered with lead.

Lead paint:

Eating lead-based paint chips is the most common cause of lead poisoning in children. Lead that leaches into food could also be found in glazes that are found on ceramics, china and porcelain.

Some canned foods:

Lead solder could be found in some food cans.



Seizures, unconsciousness and possibly death could be caused due to exposure to very high levels of lead. The kidneys and nervous system in both children and adults could be damaged due to exposure to relatively high levels of lead, 25 micrograms (a microgram is one-millionth of a gram) per deciliter (1/2 cup) of blood. Exposure to even low levels of lead, 10 micrograms in a deciliter of blood, could cause damage over time, particularly in children.



Elevated blood lead levels could cause some of these health problems in children:


  • Kidney and nervous system damage
  • Decreased muscle and bone growth
  • Behavior, language and speech problems
  • Hearing damage
  • Anemia
  • Learning disabilities
  • Poor muscle coordination



Some of the complications that could be caused in adults due to high levels of lead may include:


  • High blood pressure
  • Damage to reproductive organs in men
  • Anemia
  • Pregnancy complications, such as stillbirth, preterm delivery and miscarriage
  • Memory and concentration problems
  • Nerve disorders
  • Digestive problems
  • Cataracts
  • Muscle and joint pain


Removing the source of contamination is the first step in treating all degrees of lead poisoning. However, if people can't remove lead from their environment, they should reduce the possibility of its causing problems. In some cases, sealing in old lead paint could be better than removing it. To identify and reduce lead in their home and community, people should contact their local health department.


To reduce blood lead levels in children and adults with relatively low lead levels, simply avoiding exposure could be enough.



For more severe cases, a person may be recommended:

Chelation therapy:

In this method, to excrete lead in the urine, the person will take a medication that will bind with lead.

EDTA therapy:

A chemical called ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA) is used to treat lead levels that are higher than 45 mcg/dL of blood. Someone may need more than one treatment, depending on the lead level. However, damage that has already occurred may not be reversed in such severe cases.


Children with lead poisoning may also be treated with iron supplements in case they're iron deficient.


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