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
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.
June 5, 2012
John Pope, MD - Pediatrics & R. Steven Tharratt, MD, MPVM, FACP, FCCP - Pulmonology, Critical Care Medicine, Medical Toxicology
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