Lead poisoning (toxicity)

Abdomen | Emergency Medicine | Lead poisoning (toxicity) (Disease)


Lead poisoning or toxicity (also known as plumbism, colica Pictonum, saturnism, Devon colic, or painters colic) usually occurs over time. The ingested amount of lead is not cleared from the body and accumulates. Children are more susceptible, and exposure is often from old peeling paint.

Symptoms include abdominal pain, confusion, headache, anemia, irritability, and in severe cases seizures, coma, and death.

Causes and Risk factors

Lead poisoning is caused by increased levels of the heavy metal lead in the body.

Lead interferes with a variety of body processes and is toxic to many organs and tissues including the heart, bones, intestines, kidneys, and reproductive and nervous systems. It interferes with the development of the nervous system and is therefore particularly toxic to children, causing potentially permanent learning and behavior disorders.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Elevated lead in the body can be detected by the presence of changes in blood cells visible with a microscope and dense lines in the bones of children seen on X-ray. However, the main tool for diagnosis is measurement of the blood lead level or a urine test. When blood lead levels are recorded, the results indicate how much lead is circulating within the blood stream, not the amount being stored in the body.

The major treatments are removal of the source of lead and chelation therapy (administration of agents that bind lead so it can be excreted). ...