Lead poisoning (plumbism) is a serious medical condition resulting from high blood levels of lead, which can cause fatal consequences. Lead is a toxic element that is abundant in the soil. In addition, it is also present in the atmosphere due to its use in various industries. In particular, approximately 1,000 tons of lead circulates in the atmosphere in the Northern hemisphere. Leaded fuel, lead paint, toys and other materials containing lead paint, vinyl sunshades, glazed porcelain and ceramic materials and vessels and glass products containing lead are primary sources. Lead does not have any function in the body; however, it causes serious health problems via accumulation in tissues. Lead is taken into the body through the respiratory system, gastrointestinal system or skin contact. In adults, the respiratory system is a major route to enter the body, and lead is absorbed by 40% in average. In children, lead exposure through food products is more predominant and it is estimated that absorption is more than 50%. Accumulation of lead sufficient enough to cause poisoning takes a long time in general. Absorbed lead spreads into the blood, soft tissues and skeletal tissues.
What are the harms caused by lead in the body?
The major effects of lead are disorders in blood cells and neurons. Lead poisoning causes anemia, bloodlessness. Hemoglobin synthesis is decreased when blood lead level exceeds 40 µg/dL, resulting in anemia.
In children, the elevated blood levels of lead causes to paralysis, mental retardation and decelerated growth and development. The effects of lead are greater in pregnant women and children where lead poisoning can be seen at lower blood levels.
The harms of lead can be listed as follows:
• Impaired and decreased erythrocyte production
• Hearing loss
• Elevated blood pressure
• Renal disorders
• Nervous system disorders
• Decreased life expectancy
In addition to above-mentioned disorders, the following effects can be observed even with very low lead amounts in children:
• Intellectual disability
• Delayed growth
• Neuronal impairment
How is lead poisoning treated?
The initial step is to eliminate the source of lead. Individualized therapies are used based on clinical presentations and systems involved. Chelation therapy can be life-saving in patients with encephalopathy, seizures or persistent vomiting.