What is Lead Poisoning?

Many of us regard lead poisoning as a problem left in the past. The ongoing water disaster in Flint, Michigan, however has proven that lead poisoning can still happen in the United States in 2016. But what is lead poisoning?

Lead poisoning occurs when lead builds up in the body, most often over the course of several weeks or months. People of any age may be affected by lead poisoning, but children under 6 are especially vulnerable. Lead poisoning this early in life may lead to impaired physical and/or mental development. High levels of lead in the blood may even lead to death.

In its early stages, lead poisoning may be hard to detect, since symptoms may not be present until significant damage has already been done. Symptoms may also be different in individuals of different age groups, adding further confusion to the matter. Infants exposed to lead may experience delayed growth, both physically and mentally. Since only time can show these delays, parents may not notice symptoms early on. Children past the infant stage of life may experience learning difficulties, irritability, loss of appetite, weight loss, loss of energy, abdominal pain, vomiting, constipation, or hearing loss. Adults may experience raised blood pressure, abdominal pain, constipation, joint pain, muscle pain, decrease in mental faculties, headaches, pain or numbness in arms or legs, memory loss, inconsistency in mood, reduced sperm count, or miscarriage. A pregnant woman who contracts lead poisoning may pass harm to her unborn child, including premature birth or a wide variety of birth defects. The most serious concern for complications of lead poisoning is the possibility of irreversible brain damage in young children, but high levels of lead may always cause damage to the kidneys or nervous system to victims at any age. Severe cases may cause seizures or death.

Many doctors routinely test for increased lead levels during well child visits and recommend further preventative testing when the child is one and two years old. If you or your children experience any potential lead poisoning symptoms and you have recently moved house, changed schools, begun household renovations, or changed jobs, a test to determine lead levels in the blood may be crucial. If lead levels have increased the most important thing is to remove the source of lead, which may require renovating the home, purchasing a water filter, or even relocating your family. Your doctor will help you determine if medication is needed to treat the lead poisoning.


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