Lead poisoning – causes, symptoms and treatment

Lead Poisoning

What is lead poisoning?

Lead poisoning occurs when a mass of lead is build-up in the body over months or years. Lead poisoning is a major issue since it harms a person’s mental and physical health.

Lead is a metal found in the surroundings where we live. Even a small amount of lead becomes a toxin to human beings. Children are more likely to fall prey than adults. Lead exposure at high levels leaves serious complications because lead affects the whole body. But, in particular, lead poisoning attacks the brain and central nervous system.  

What causes lead poisoning?

Lead is a soft silvery or greyish metal. Widely used for car batteries, weight belts for driving, roofing materials, toys, pipes and is extensively used in paints.  

Lead is almost present all around us. Lead paint is the common cause of lead poisoning; after discovering this, it was avoided. But the older homes may still have it.  

Lead pipes are used less today, but the older houses have lead taps. This acts as a source for the lead to enter the body. Sometimes the lead particles from the paint and other materials can land in sand and stay there for a long while.  

Olden days have lead-painted toys, but it is banned now. Toy and house paints containing lead might result in lead dust in the home. The paint or coating used on glasses and pottery is made of lead.  

Lead bullets also lead to lead poisoning.

Certain occupations – mining, battery manufacture, painting and construction have a high risk of being exposed to lead. Also, those working in such industries have a higher chance of bringing it home by carrying it on their clothes.  

Apart from the materials mentioned above, it is believed that some cosmetics, candies and herbal remedies contain lead.  

How does the lead enter the body?

Frequent exposure to lead is how adults get lead poisoning. It can be of anything like drinking or eating lead-contaminated drinks or food. Working in a lead-exposed area will increase the risk of developing lead poisoning.  

In children, it is a different case. Children mostly below the age of 6 are about to fall prey to lead poisoning. Children may get exposed to lead as they touch lead-contaminated things and happen to keep the same hand in their mouth and get contaminated. Other ways of getting contaminated include breathing in lead dust, chewing the lead-contaminated things, etc.  

What are the symptoms of lead poisoning?  

Lead poisoning damages the whole body in various ways. However, the initial stage leaves no symptoms, so it is hard to diagnose lead poisoning in its early stages.  

Lead poisoning is a slow and cumulative process that requires frequent lead exposure. The following are the symptoms of lead poisoning.

Symptoms in children

  • Hyperactivity
  • Learning difficulty
  • Behaviour changes
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Poor appetite
  • Anaemia
  • Weight loss
  • Headache
  • Muscle and joint weakness

If the child’s brain is still in the development stage, lead build-up affects their IQ, causing a lack of attention, growth delay and below-average performance in school.  

Symptoms in adults

How does lead poisoning affect the body?  

As mentioned, lead poisoning affects children more than adults. However, everyone is most likely to fall prey if overexposure to lead happens. Lead  

exposure is a constant process wherein a mass of lead builds up in the body.  

Lead affects the brain and central nervous system, leading to coma and even death. Children are more susceptible to lead poisoning because they frequently put objects in their mouths, no matter what they are.

What is the diagnosis of lead poisoning?

Consulting the doctor is essential to diagnose lead poisoning.  

A blood test can easily detect lead poisoning. The amount of blood in the lead is checked. A blood test is commonly used to diagnose lead poisoning in both children and adults.  

An imagery test like an X-ray and CT scan will be useful for further diagnosis.  

What are the treatments available for lead poisoning?

Treatment always depends on the severity of the disease. The key importance is to eliminate exposure to lead. Chelation therapy is a medication that is taken through the mouth. The drug binds to the lead, which is then excreted in the urine.

Chelation therapy (DMSA) is often used for both children and adults, considering the severity of lead poisoning. The other treatment option is EDTA, which is injected into the veins. It treats the heavy metal (lead) and removes it from the body.  

The treatment of lead poisoning aims to prevent further damage and remove the lead from the body. However, the side effect of lead poisoning cannot be reversed.  


Lead poisoning is a serious condition where the recovery time in adults is faster than in children. Avoiding lead exposure is the only prevention measure for lead poisoning. Good health and hygiene practices will prevent several diseases, including lead poisoning.

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