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Metal toxicity

Last updated: January 7, 2021

Summary

Exposure to heavy metals such as mercury, lead, iron, and arsenic is harmful to the human body and can potentially cause both acute symptoms (e.g., local irritation, gastroenteritis, and pneumonia) and longterm effects (e.g., abnormal physical development, cancer, damage to the central nervous system, and kidney). Toxic metals have many industrial purposes and therefore represent occupational hazards for a number of professions. Industrial pollution with heavy metals can affect the wider population through the contamination of food (e.g., mercury in fish) and water (e.g., lead, arsenic).

For chronic diseases resulting from the inhalation of metal dust, see “Pneumoconiosis.”

General considerations

Overview of metal toxicities [1][2][3][4]
Features of intoxication Pathomechanism Diagnostics Treatment
Arsenic
  • Induces oxidative stress on endothelial cells and disrupts ATP production
Lead
  • Detectable in blood
  • Succimer
  • Dimercaprol
  • Calcium disodium edetate (CaNa2EDTA)
Iron
  • Clinical
Mercury
  • Irreversibly inhibits selenoenzymes (restore antioxidant molecules) → ↑ oxidative damage [5]
Gold
  • Clinical
  • Discontinuation of gold therapy
Copper
  • Detectable in blood and urine [7]

Arsenic

Lead

ABCDEFGH: Anemia, Basophilic stippling, Constipation, Demyelination, Encephalopathy, Foot drop, Gum deposition/Growth retardation/Gout, Hyperuricemia/Hypertension

“It sucks to be a child with lead poisoning!” - succimer is used to treat lead poisoning in children.

Iron

Mercury

Cadmium

Chromium

  • Sources of exposure: galvanization (chrome plating), paint and glass manufacturing, tanning leather, building materials (potassium dichromate in cement → “cement eczema” is an occupational hazard among construction workers)
  • Clinical features
  • Diagnostics: urine or blood

Thallium

Vanadium (vanadium pentoxide)

Manganese

Nickel

Platinum

Gold

Copper

References

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