Lead contamination, also known as lead poisoning and plumbism, occurs due to an accumulation of lead in the body. Lead is a toxic metal commonly found in some paints and dust in older homes and buildings. Lead contamination generally develops over a long period of repeated exposure to small amounts of lead. However, if an object containing lead is swallowed, this can produce acute lead poisoning. As a neurotoxin, lead damages the brain and nervous system. While it is dangerous for individuals of any age, lead contamination is particularly dangerous for children since their brains are still developing. For children, symptoms of lead contamination generally include vomiting, stomach pain, irritability, loss of appetite, and hearing loss. Children may also experience seizures, developmental delays, and a tendency to eat non-food items. In adults, symptoms can include high blood pressure, abdominal pain, memory problems, and joint or muscle pain. Some adults may also have frequent headaches, and lead contamination could cause pregnant women to have a premature delivery or a miscarriage. To diagnose lead contamination, doctors perform blood tests to check lead levels. Although no safe level of lead has been established, doctors typically conduct regular monitoring of children whose lead levels are greater than five micrograms per deciliter. For children and adults, lead levels of forty-five micrograms per deciliter and above require treatment.
The steps outlined below are recommended in the prevention and treatment of lead contamination.
Chelation therapy may be needed for patients with severe cases of lead contamination, including children with lead levels above forty-five micrograms per deciliter and symptomatic adults. Traditional chelation therapy uses an injection of EDTA (calcium disodium ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid). The EDTA binds to the lead so it can be removed through urination. A newer form of this treatment uses an oral medication that functions in the same manner, eliminating the need for injections. While receiving this therapy, patients will be closely monitored for adverse reactions and side effects. Potential side effects include fever, headache, nausea, and vomiting. Rarely, some patients experience a sensation of tightness in the chest, and this could be accompanied by a drop in blood pressure and a change in heart rhythm. While receiving treatment, patients may have their vital signs and heartbeat checked to reduce the risk of these complications.
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