Heavy metal poisoning : Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

Research Based
Medically reviewed by - Dr Lara Mokhtar, MD Written by - Dr. Diksha Sangle


What is Heavy metal poisoning?

Heavy metal poisoning is an ugly and constant threat to human health in the area of environmental and occupational risks. Exposure to metals like lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, and others that seep into our environment due to numerous industrial activities is what causes the poisoning.1Overview| Researched based study from

They are desirable for industrial applications because they have unique chemical properties due to their high atomic weights and densities. When they affect the vital balance of our bodies, disrupting critical physiological processes and compromising organ functions, their poisonous nature becomes evident.

This article seeks to educate readers about the numerous facets of heavy metal poisoning, from its sources and exposure pathways to its catastrophic effects on human health.

Heavy metal poisoning is an ugly and constant threat to human health in the area of environmental and occupational risks.


Symptoms of Heavy metal poisoning

Neurological symptoms

  • Headaches
  • Memory loss
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Numbness or tingling in extremities
  • Tremors or involuntary muscle movements
  • Seizures

Gastrointestinal symptoms

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Metallic taste in the mouth

Respiratory symptoms

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Pulmonary edema (fluid accumulation in the lungs)

Renal (kidney) symptoms

  • Frequent urination
  • Blood in urine
  • Proteinuria (presence of excess protein in urine)
  • Decreased urine output
  • Kidney stones
  • Renal failure

Dermatological symptoms

  • Skin rashes or irritation
  • Dermatitis
  • Hair loss
  • Discoloration of nails

Cardiovascular symptoms

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Chest pain
  • Peripheral artery disease
  • Reproductive and developmental symptoms
  • Infertility

Abnormalities in fetal development

  • Congenital disabilities
  • Menstrual irregularities

Psychological and behavioral symptoms

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Aggression
  • Sleep disturbances

The exact metal associated, the level and duration of exposure, and individual sensitivity can all affect symptoms differently. It’s crucial to remember that while the metal builds up in the body, symptoms may not occur right away and may take time to manifest.1Symptoms| Researched based study from ,3Symptoms| Researched based study from


What are the causes of Heavy metal poisoning?

  • Occupational exposure from factories
  • Environmental pollution
  • Contaminated food and water
  • Consumer products
  • Contaminated air
  • Dental materials

It may occur for several reasons, with exposure to contaminated sources being the primary. Here are a few typical reasons:1Causes| Researched based study from ,2Causes| Researched based study from ,4Causes| Researched based study from

Workplace exposure

  • Workers in some industries, including mining, smelting, battery manufacturing, electronics manufacturing, and construction, are at risk of coming into contact with or inhaling dust, fumes, or vapors that include metal.
  • Handling heavy metals or commodities that could contain heavy metal contamination is a part of these firms.1Causes| Researched based study from

Environmental damage

  • Metals can contaminate the environment through industrial operations, inappropriate waste disposal, and other human activities; industries, including mining, manufacturing, and garbage incineration, that emit heavy metals into the air, water, or soil can have an impact.
  • They can survive in the environment long after being discharged, eventually entering the food chain and water sources.4Causes| Researched based study from

Contaminated food and water

  • A common cause is ingesting food and water polluted with heavy metals.
  • They may infiltrate the food chain through contaminated soil, water supplies, or agricultural practices involving metal-laden pesticides or fertilizers.
  • When consumed frequently, seafood, significantly larger species like tuna or swordfish, can accumulate significant levels of mercury.2Causes| Researched based study from

Commercial products

  • Exposure risk may result from the presence of heavy metals in some items.
  • Some examples are lead-based paints, ceramic glazes, cosmetics, over-the-counter medications, herbal supplements, and jewelry or toys containing lead, mercury, or cadmium.
  • Metal poisoning can result from unintentional ingestion, inhalation, or skin contact with these goods, especially in children who may engage in hand-to-mouth behavior.4Causes| Researched based study from

Contaminated air

  • In areas with a lot of industrial activity, near hazardous waste sites, or through car emissions, it is possible to breathe in airborne particles or fumes.
  • Lead, arsenic, or cadmium can be found in contaminated air, inhaled, and absorbed into the bloodstream.1Causes| Researched based study from

Dental materials

  • Mercury is present in several dental materials, such as amalgam fillings. Even though these are typically regarded as secure, excessive exposure or poor handling during installation or removal might result in mercury poisoning.

It’s crucial to remember that different metals have different sources of exposure. For instance, exposure to lead is frequently linked to lead-based paint in older homes, whereas mercury exposure may come from eating specific fish species.2Causes| Researched based study from


Diagnosis and tests for Heavy metal poisoning

Medical history and examination

  • A thorough history will include information about possible exposure to heavy metals, employment, interests, and symptoms.
  • They will also identify any relevant signs or indicators that may be connected.

Blood and urine tests

The specific tests depending on the suspected exposure include:

  • Blood lead level (BLL) measures the lead concentration in the blood.
  • Urine mercury level: Assesses mercury levels in the urine.
  • Blood cadmium level: Measures the amount of cadmium in the blood.
  • Other tests like urine arsenic level test, blood or urine aluminum level test, and blood or urine copper level test can help determine the presence and extent of metals.

Hair analysis

  • This non-invasive technique may provide details regarding prolonged metal exposure.
  • Although it might not correctly reflect recent or acute exposure, it could help uncover patterns of chronic exposure.

Imaging procedures

  • X-rays may be used to determine the degree of injury to bones or internal organs.

Chelation testing initiation

  • To determine the overall body burden of heavy metals, provocation or chelation tests may be used in specific circumstances.
  • Chelating substances, such as dimercaptosuccinic acid (DMSA), are given to patients to help release heavy metals from tissues and improve urine excretion.
  • After collection, the urine samples are examined.

Other specific tests

Additional tests to examine organ function may be performed, depending on the suspected exposure and related symptoms. such as:1Diagnosis| Researched based study from

  • Liver and kidney function tests
  • Neurological testing
  • Cardiovascular tests


Treatment of Heavy metal poisoning

Removal of the source

  • Finding and eliminating the exposure source is the first step.
  • Eliminating or reducing exposure to polluted settings, chemicals, or consumer goods may be near.
  • Implementing safety precautions and following suggested guidelines can help prevent future exposure in workplace situations.5Treatment| Researched based study from ,6Treatment| Researched based study from

Chelation treatment

Chelating drugs are administered, which bind to the body’s heavy metals and create complexes that can be eliminated through urine or feces.

Depending on the particular metal in question. Among the most common are:

  • Dimercaptosuccinic acid
  • Dimercapto-propane sulfonate
  • Calcium disodium EDTA
  • British anti-Lewisite (BAL) or dimercaprol

Supportive care

  • This focuses on treating related problems and managing symptoms.
  • This might entail giving intravenous fluids, treating symptoms with painkillers or nausea medicines, and addressing specific organ damage with suitable therapies.5Treatment| Researched based study from

Nutritional support

  • Specific nutrients and dietary changes may improve detoxification and support overall health.
  • For instance, vitamins C, zinc, and selenium may have preventive benefits against the toxicity of heavy metals.
  • A physician can offer advice on a balanced diet and possible supplementation.

Monitoring and follow-up

  • To gauge the success of therapy, keep track of the body’s heavy metal levels, and analyze any potential long-term effects, it is essential to schedule routine follow-up appointments and monitoring strategies depending on each person’s response5Treatment| Researched based study from ,6Treatment| Researched based study from


What are the ways to reduce the risk of Heavy metal poisoning.

What are the ways to reduce the risk of Heavy metal poisoning?

  • Learn about potential sources and how they may affect your health. Keep current with local warnings and rules about exposure to heavy metals.
  • Follow the correct safety procedures and rules, whether working with them at home or the office.
  • Wear gloves, masks, and glasses to reduce direct contact or inhalation of substances.
  • Separate dangerous materials from food, drinks, and other objects that could become contaminated when storing them securely.
  • Pay close attention to the standard and security of food and water sources.
  • Follow the recommendations for drinking safe water and ensure the sources are routinely checked for heavy metal contamination.
  • Eat a varied, balanced diet with low-mercury seafood selections, and avoid getting it from contaminated water.
  • To prevent contamination, carefully wash fruits and vegetables.
  • Keep an eye out for consumer goods that could contain heavy metals. To follow safety regulations, read product labels and opt for being certified as being free of them.
  • Be cautious when using cosmetics, jewelry, toys, herbal supplements, and other products.
  • Follow local restrictions when disposing of hazardous chemicals, batteries, electronics, and other debris. Never flush them down the drain or put them in the ordinary trash.
  • Maintain a tidy workspace. Be mindful of any potentially lead-based paint or polluted soil regions.
  • To reduce the spread of dust, use HEPA-filtered vacuum cleaners or wet cleaning techniques.
  • To monitor your overall health and spot any potential signs or symptoms, think about getting regular exams.
  • Encourage and promote stricter environmental laws, monitoring programs, and other way to reduce pollution from waste disposal, industrial operations, and other sources.7Prevention| Researched based study from

Bottom Line

The bottom line

The effects of heavy metal poisoning can be severe but remember in mind; by reducing the dangers and encouraging environmental stewardship, we can help safeguard our communities, ourselves, and future generations from the harmful effects.

Disclaimer: The user acknowledges that this article's information is being offered for informational purposes only. Every attempt has been made to guarantee that the article is informational and correct. If they have any doubts or questions about their health, we firmly advise our readers to visit a doctor or other healthcare professional.

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