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Lead Poisoning

Lead poisoning is the name given to the harm caused by the presence of lead in the body, usually from months or years of exposure to small amounts of lead in the environment. Lead poisoning can happen at any age, but it is more harmful to children younger than 6 years of age and is especially harmful to those younger than 3 years of age; it can permanently affect a child's physical health and mental development.

Symptoms of lead poisoning can be very vague and may include irritability, mood changes, weight loss, lack of energy, vomiting, constipation, or stomach pain. In many cases there are no symptoms. Children younger than 3 who have lead poisoning may have anemia as well as learning disabilities, behavior disorders, and a variety of other developmental problems.

Lead may be present in old paint, metal water pipes, and other substances. Lead-based paint may be a hazard in older homes, especially if it is flaking and peeling. A pregnant woman who is exposed to lead can pass it to her baby. Lead can also be passed to a baby through the mother's breast milk. The best way to prevent lead poisoning is to reduce exposure to possible sources of lead.

If you suspect you or your child has been exposed to lead, a blood test may be appropriate. Lead poisoning may be diagnosed with a blood lead test that measures the amount of lead in the blood.

Treatment of lead poisoning begins with removing sources of lead from the home and workplace. Providing balanced nutrition to a person who has lead poisoning is also essential. Chelation therapy is often used to treat severe lead poisoning. A medicine binds to the lead and allows it to be released in urine.

Current as of: June 5, 2012

Author: Healthwise Staff

Medical Review: John Pope, MD - Pediatrics & R. Steven Tharratt, MD, MPVM, FACP, FCCP - Pulmonology, Critical Care Medicine, Medical Toxicology

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