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Lead poisoning

Damage to the brain, red blood cells, nerves, and digestive system, brought on by swallowing lead salts or breathing in lead fumes. Acute poisoning, which arises when a heavy amount of lead is absorbed into the body over a short period of time, is occasionally fatal, but is uncommon. Chronic poisoning can be caused by old paint, water pipes containing lead, or exhaust fumes from vehicles running on leaded petrol.

Symptoms and signs

Symptoms of acute poisoning include diarrhoea, vomiting, and extreme colicky abdominal pain. There can also be appetite loss, anaemia, and in chronic lead poisoning, a grey, blue, or black line across gum margins.

Chronic poisoning can have particularly ruthless effects on children: it can damage the brain and nervous system, leading to learning and behavioural problems, and cause kidney difficulties and hearing problems. In adults, it can impair the kidneys, and the digestive and nervous system.


Lead poisoning can be established by urine and blood tests. Chelating agents, such as penicillamine, can be administered; they bind to the lead and enable the body to excrete it at a quicker rate.

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