We are surrounded and exposed to heavy metals in our everyday environments all the time. They are in the ground that we walk in, often in the products that we use and buy, as well as the water that we drink. Heavy metals are naturally occurring elements and the human body does need some such as zinc in order to function properly. For the most part, these elements are not harmful and exposure might not be too much of a health concern. However, what can lead to danger is when your exposure to heavy metals is constant and in high quantities.
Heavy metal poisoning, although very rare, can happen and many might not be aware that they are experiencing heavy metal poisoning. In order to be able to know if you have may be experiencing heavy metal poisoning, you should understand what heavy metals you may have been exposed. You also want to understand the symptoms and treatments available.
Causes of Heavy Metal Poisoning
As mentioned, heavy metal poisoning is not a very common occurrence, but it can and does happen. The most common types of heavy metal poisoning occur from lead, mercury, arsenic, and cadmium. These are metals that are commonly found in our everyday items.
Lead poisoning was once much more common in children because of many toys containing lead based paints. As well, young children are more likely to swallow or put items in their mouth that might have lead dusting such as jewelry and their bodies tend to absorb lead more than adults. However, the cases of lead poisoning in children has dropped. More often lead poisoning might occur to those that work in battery plants or welders as they are exposed to materials laden with lead.
Mercury poisoning is another common case of heavy metal poisoning that could occur. This type of heavy metal poisoning could occur in those that work in the dental field and chemical workers. It could also occur from eating fish that were caught in areas with high levels of mercury in the waters.
Arsenic poisoning can commonly occur because it is in many pesticides and insect killing products. Homes that are constantly using these kinds of products might have a greater chance of arsenic poisoning. Cadmium is another heavy metal that can be found in many household goods such as storage batteries. Exposure to such metals for prolonged amounts of time can lead to poisoning.
Symptoms of Heavy Metal Poisoning
Symptoms of heavy metal poisoning might often depend on what kind of heavy metal you are exposed to. However, there are some general symptoms to look out for depending on how much and how often you were exposed to the heavy metal.
Acute poisoning occurs when you have a lot of heavy metal in a short period of time. For example, a child swallowing a lead paint toy or swallowing or inhaling pesticides with arsenic. You are likely to experience:
- Feeling sick and throw up
- Feeling confused
- Pass out
This is because of the quantity of heavy metal that you might get immediate and drastic symptoms.
In contrast, chronic poisoning is exposure to low amounts of heavy metals but for a longer, prolonged amount of time. The metals build up in your body and you might feel symptoms slowly but more consistently. Some symptoms might include:
- Migraines and headaches
- Weakness and fatigue
- Aching joints and muscles
This kind of poisoning might not be obvious at first and thus many might not realize they have heavy metal poisoning.
Treatment and Prevention
Once you show symptoms of heavy metal poisoning, it is important to get tested and begin treatment. The first and most important step for treatment is to eliminate exposure to the metal. In some cases, such as acute poisoning you may need to have your stomach pumped to remove the metals from your system immediately and before further absorption.
As far as prevention, there are many ways to prevent heavy metal poisoning. Making sure you are using protective clothing such as face masks when in areas that are heavy with metals. Metals often accumulate in dust and dirt, so making sure your home is clean and dust-free can also aid in preventing exposure.
How Heavy Metal Poisoning Is Diagnosed
As already mentioned, heavy metal poisoning may occur due to exposure to food, water, objects, surfaces, or air containing toxic metals. The toxic metals that humans are commonly exposed to include lead, arsenic, mercury, and cadmium.
High concentrations of metals in the body may cause general symptoms such as nausea, abdominal pain, body weakness, diarrhea, chills, and shortness of breath. More specific manifestations depend on the type of metal absorbed by the body. But how can you get diagnosed for heavy metal poisoning?
Heavy Metal Toxicity
Heavy metal poisoning can be diagnosed with a simple blood test, called the heavy metal toxicity test or heavy metals panel. A small amount of blood sample is obtained and tested for the presence of heavy metals. Additional testing is required if you’ve exhibited heavy metal poisoning signs and symptoms if the blood test would only show low levels.
Here are the good-to-know facts about the heavy metal toxicity test:
- The heavy metal toxicity test detects specific toxic metals in the blood. It can also be done using a urine sample, hair, or other bodily fluids or tissues. Laboratories offer individual or panel tests for metals such as mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium, copper, and zinc.
- This test is used to guide the treatment and management of heavy metal poisoning. It is also used to screen those who are acutely or chronically exposed to heavy metals. Also, the heavy metal toxicity test can be used to check for the effectiveness of chelation therapy, a treatment to eliminate high amounts of heavy metals in the body.
Kidney and Liver Function Test
Because heavy metal intoxication may damage the kidneys and the liver, elevated liver enzymes and kidney toxicity are apparent in kidney and liver function tests. The damages caused by heavy metal poisoning can be further confirmed through an X-ray and electrocardiogram.