What is lead poisoning?

Lead is a heavy metal that is toxic to the human body. Lead poisoning can result from placing lead objects in your mouth, placing fingers in your mouth after handling lead, or from breathing dust that contains lead. Lead can be found in pre-1978 house paint, solder used in plumbing, old toys or furniture, imported toys, curtain weights, pottery, porcelain, leaded glass, and hobby materials. Lead poisoning often develops gradually as lead accumulates in the body as a result of multiple exposures.

Poisoning Symptoms Spotlight

Lead exposure and poisoning is especially concerning in infants and children, as it can affect their developing nervous systems and interfere with mental development. In the United States, approximately 250,000 children between the ages of 1 and 5 years old are estimated to have lead levels above the level that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers to be a public health concern (Source: CDC).

Because lead poisoning can be gradual, its symptoms may not be obvious. Symptoms can include slowed growth, behavioral problems, problems in school, developmental delay, abdominal pain, constipation, headache, sleep disorders, decreased appetite, fatigue, decreased sensation, and hearing problems. Vomiting, walking difficulties, weakness, seizures, and coma can occur with very high blood lead levels.

Since lead poisoning can cause permanent complications, the best treatment for lead poisoning is prevention. If lead is ingested, bowel irrigation or gastric lavage (stomach pumping) may be considered to help clear the gut. Chelation therapy may be needed to bind and remove lead from the body. Following treatment, it is crucial to avoid ongoing lead exposure as much as possible.

Lead poisoning can have serious, even life-threatening complications. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for ingestion of significant amounts of lead or for symptoms of severe lead toxicity, including seizures, vomiting, or alterations in level of consciousness.

Seek prompt medical care if you have concerns about possible lead poisoning.

SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of lead poisoning?

The gradual accumulation of lead in the body may make it difficult to recognize symptoms of lead poisoning. Ultimately, changes in cognition, slow development, behavioral issues, motor and sensory problems, decreased attention span, sleepiness, and poor appetite may be noticed. Headaches, constipation, and abdominal pain may be present.... Read more about lead poisoningsymptoms

CAUSES

What causes lead poisoning?

Lead can be found in many places in the environment around you. It is found in soil near highways and houses, lead paint, lead bullets, lead solder used in crafts and older plumbing, fishing and curtain weights, some art supplies, pewter, some pottery and porcelain, and leaded glass. Lead poisoning can result from placing lead objects in your mouth, placing fingers in your mouth after handling lead, or from breathing dust that contains lead.... Read more about lead poisoningcauses

TREATMENTS

How is lead poisoning treated?

Treatment of lead poisoning begins with seeking regular medical care throughout your life. Regular medical care allows a health care professional to provide early screening tests. Regular medical care also provides an opportunity for your health care professional to evaluate symptoms and your risks for developing lead poisoning promptly.... Read more about lead poisoningtreatments

Medical Reviewer: All content has been reviewed by board-certified physicians under the direction of Rich Klasco, M.D., FACEP. Last Annual Review Date: May 2, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Poisoning and Environmental Health