Lead poisoning

From WikiMD's Health & Wellness Encyclopedia

Lead poisoning is a medical condition 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 system, but primarily affects the nervous system, particularly in children.

Etiology and Pathophysiology

Lead can enter the body through inhalation, ingestion, or skin absorption, most commonly from lead-based paint, contaminated water, and lead dust. Once in the body, lead can displace calcium, interfere with the formation of red blood cells, and disrupt the functioning of the nervous system.

Clinical Presentation

Symptoms of lead poisoning are diverse and may vary depending on the individual and the duration and intensity of exposure. In children, the symptoms often include abdominal pain, decreased appetite, irritability, constipation, fatigue, and learning difficulties. In adults, additional symptoms may include high blood pressure, joint and muscle pain, difficulties with memory or concentration, headache, abdominal pain, mood disorders, and, in some cases, reduced sperm count or abnormal menstruation.


Lead poisoning is diagnosed through a blood test that measures the level of lead in the blood. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a blood lead level of 5 micrograms per deciliter or more in children or 10 micrograms per deciliter or more in adults is considered elevated and requires treatment.


Treatment for lead poisoning consists of removing the source of lead, providing nutritious meals rich in calcium and iron to help reduce the absorption of lead, and in severe cases, using chelation therapy or EDTA therapy to remove the lead from the body.


Prevention of lead poisoning can be achieved through various measures, including reducing environmental lead sources, increasing public awareness about the dangers of lead exposure, regular screening for lead in at-risk individuals, and implementing protective occupational safety regulations for those working with lead.

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Contributors: Prab R. Tumpati, MD