Lead poisoning

Lead poisoning, or lead toxicity,  is a health complication arising from exposure to lead and can affect children as well as adults. Read and know all about the disorder, its causes, symptoms, treatment options, complications and more.

Lead poisoning Definition

It is a medical disorder arising from an increase in the level of lead in the bloodstream.

The condition is also referred to by the following names:

  • Painter’s colic
  • Plumbism
  • Colica Pictonum
  • Devon colic
  • Saturnism

Lead poisoning Incidence

In the United States, around 310,000 kids in the age group 1-5 years are found to suffer from unsafe levels of lead in blood. It is important to seek immediate medical care in case of headaches, stomach pain and other symptoms associated to lead toxicity. Neglecting timely treatment can give rise t

Lead poisoning ICD9 Code

The ICD9 Code for this disease is 984.9.

Lead poisoning Causes

The disease originates when there is a build-up of lead in the body, over a period of several months or even years. Lead-contaminated dust in old buildings and lead-based paint are found to lead to this condition in children very frequently. Other sources include water, air and soil contaminated with lead.

The condition is not only specific to children. It may also affect adults who are exposed to lead on a regular basis. Such adult population includes those who have been renovating home for a long time, those working in auto repair shops and those working with batteries.

Lead poisoning Symptoms

Major health problems can arise due to the presence of even minor amounts of lead in the body. Like beneficial minerals such as zinc, iron and calcium, lead gets distributed throughout the body. When in the bloodstream, it causes damage to the red blood cells (RBCs) and reduces their ability to transport oxygen to and from various important tissues and organs. A lack of RBCs leads to anemia. Presence of lead in bone may also result in other problems.

The metal can also interfere with the absorption of calcium and the manufacture of blood cells. Calcium is necessary for muscular contraction, development of bones and teeth as well as various other purposes.

The disease may result in a variety of health problems, such as:

  • Reproductive toxicity
  • Renal disease
  • Cardiovascular effects
  • Neurological damage

Extremely high levels of lead in blood may prove fatal for sufferers.

The symptoms of the disorder tend to differ depending on the age of the sufferer.

Symptoms in newborns

In babies who are exposed to the metal even before birth, the condition gives rise to problems like:

  • Difficulties in learning
  • Retarded growth

Symptoms in children

In young children, the disorder gives rise to a number of health issues like:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Learning difficulties
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sluggishness
  • Vomiting
  • Weight Loss

Symptoms in adults

In grown-ups, high levels of lead result in:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Abnormalities in sperm
  • Deterioration in mental functioning
  • Headaches
  • High blood pressure
  • Memory loss
  • Miscarriage or premature birth in pregnant women
  • Mood disorders
  • Muscular weakness
  • Numbness, pain or tingling of the extremities
  • Reduced sperm count

Some other problems arising due to high lead content in blood include:

  • Anemia
  • Insomnia
  • Low energy
  • Poor appetite
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Lowered sensations

Abdominal cramps and pain are generally the first symptom of a high dose of lead toxicity. Extremely high level of lead may lead to staggering pace of walk, seizures, vomiting, muscular weakness or even coma.

It is important to get children tested to analyze the level of lead in their bloodstream and determine whether they stand at risk of being exposed to the metal. This is due to the fact that most individuals suffering from this type of toxicity show only mild symptoms or none at all.

Lead poisoning Diagnosis

The diagnosis of the disorder usually involves a simple examination of the blood. Blood test is highly useful in detecting lead poisoning. In this type of exam, a small sample of blood is extracted from a vein or by pricking a finger. The level of lead is measured in mcg/dL (micrograms per deciliter). A level of 10mcg/dL or above is regarded to be unsafe.

As per CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), children should be tested for lead poisoning as early as 1 or 2 years of age. It also recommends testing kids aged between 3 to 6 years in the following cases:

  • If they have not been previously tested
  • If they have a sibling or a friend suffering from lead poisoning
  • If they receive Medicaid or any similar public medical aid
  • If they live in a home built prior to 1978 that was remodeled recently

The lab tests for this condition may include:

  • Bone marrow biopsy
  • CBC (Complete blood count) as well as coagulation studies
  • Erythrocyte protoporphyrin
  • Iron level
  • X-ray of the abdomen and long bones

Lead poisoning Treatment

The first and foremost treatment measure for this condition involves removing all possible sources of lead contamination. If it is impossible to obliterate the source, it is recommended that you move yourself away from the source and try to seal it in some way to avoid future risks of re-exposure. Consult your local health department to spot and lower the sources of lead poisoning in your home as well as in the surroundings.

Kids and adults with comparatively lower levels of lead in their blood should avoid possible sources of lead to lower the level of toxicity in their bloodstream.

Medical treatment

Severe cases of poisoning require immediate medical treatment, which involves:

EDTA Therapy

Level of lead in blood that is greater than 45 mcg/dL is commonly treated by a chemical known as Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA). The number of therapies to be used depends on the amount of lead in the bloodstream. High lead levels in blood need more than one therapy session. However, it is impossible to reverse damages that have already occurred in acute cases of the condition.

Chelation therapy

In this process, patients are administered with a drug that binds with the lead present in the body and leads to its excretion through urine.

In case of acute lead toxicity within a short time period, the following treatment measures may be beneficial:

  • Gastric lavage
  • Bowel irrigation with Polyethylene glycol solution

Home Treatment

Home remedial measures should follow medical measures put in practice by healthcare professionals. These include:

  • Discarding old painted toys
  • Running tap water for a minute or two before using it
  • Not storing spirits or wine in crystal decanters made of lead
  • Washing hands of self and asking the same of family members before meals

Lead poisoning Prognosis

Grown-ups with moderately high amounts of lead often recover without suffering from any problems. In kids, even moderate amount of lead toxicity may affect IQ and attention level on a permanent basis.

Those having excessive level of lead are more susceptible to long-lasting health issues. Such individuals must be monitored carefully. The muscles and nerves of such people can be severely impacted and may not function normally any more. Other physical systems, such as the blood vessels and kidneys, may be affected to varied extent.

In chronic cases, full recovery may take anywhere from several months to years.

Lead poisoning Prevention

The disease can be preventing by taking a few simple precautions. These include:

Washing hands before eating

This can help prevent intake of lead from hands that might have been exposed to the toxic metal.

Discarding old toys

Old painted toys contain lead in high amounts. Throw away your old toys if you are unsure of the paint in them. Those living in old houses in the US that have been painted before 1978 should call 800-LEAD-FYI to get the house paint examined for lead.

Cleaning dusty surfaces

Dusty surfaces often contain lead dust, which can be toxic when inhaled. Windowsills, dusty surfaces and furniture should be cleaned with a damp cloth while floors should be mopped with a wet cloth.

Using cold water

If your plumbing system is old, comprising of lead fittings or pipes, let cold water flow through them for a minute before using. Do not use hot water from tap for cooking or making baby formula foods.

Lead poisoning Risk Factors

The risk factors for this disease include:

Certain professions and hobbies

The disease more commonly affects people who are engaged in certain professions, such as stained glass manufacturing, which requires the usage of lead solder. Refinishing of old furniture may also lead to an exposure to high amounts of lead paint.


Kids under 6 years of age are particularly prone to this disorder, which can seriously affect the physical and mental development of children. Young children and infants are likelier to be exposed to the metal than older children. They may eat with unwashed hands or chew on toys contaminated with lead dust. They also absorb and retain lead more easily than adults and children who are somewhat grown up.


Kids suffering from an eating disorder called Pica have an unnatural inclination towards non-food items. Naturally, they can be highly prone to lead toxicity.

Certain origins

People living in certain countries, particularly developed nations that have less strict rules for lead exposure are more likely to suffer from this disease. Families in the US who adapt a child from some other nation should test the kid to check for lead poisoning.

Lead poisoning Complications

Exposure to even moderate amounts of this metal can result in health damage over a period of time. This is particularly true in case of children. The development of the brain is affected the most, with damage to the organ being irreversible. Those surviving very high lead toxicity may suffer from some types of permanent brain damage. Kids are more vulnerable to long-term problems of an acute nature.

Higher levels of the metal in blood may cause damage to the nervous system and the kidneys in children as well as in grown-ups. Extremely elevated levels of the metal may result in seizures, fainting and even death.

If you are suffering from the symptoms of the condition yourself, or have anyone in your family suffering from them, seek medical assistance as early as possible. Timely diagnosis and treatment is extremely essential in achieving a faster recovery and preventing possible complications of this disorder.






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