Lead is an element found naturally in the earth in trace amounts. It is a useful element, but in high concentrations can be harmful to human beings and animals. Lead poisoning is a serious health hazard if it builds up in the body for a long time, usually over many months to years.
Can Lead Poisoning Cause Kidney Damage?
Yes, lead poisoning can cause kidney damage in children and adults. Lead can be found in water, house paint, dirt, toys in very small amounts, which are not toxic to the body. However they can cause health problems later in life, including kidney damage. Continuous exposure of lead in large amounts can lead to lead toxicity in the kidneys. It takes many years of lead exposure to cause lead poisoning or toxicity usually over 5 to 30 years.
Children and infants are more prone to lead poisoning since they absorb more lead at least 5 to 10 times more than adults. They are also more exposed due to household lead contaminants such as old painted houses have significant amount of leads in them. In addition, children are more vulnerable due to direct consumption of lead accidentally, lead contaminated dust and water all lead to detrimental effects in the body of a child since lead is better absorbed in their gastrointestinal tract. It leads to increased amount of lead in the blood which is toxic to them. Studies have shown that lead amounts of 10 to 15 micrograms per liter in the blood can cause serious health problems not just in the kidney but also in the heart and brain leading to behavioral deficits, impairment of cognitive skills, increased blood pressure and impaired function of the kidneys.
Adults who are exposed to lead fumes and dust in the industry are at highest risk of lead poisoning and lead related nephrotoxicity (‘nephro’ means kidneys and ‘toxicity’ refers to poisoning). Also people who already have a history of kidney disease are more prone to lead toxicity. Industrial workers who are exposed to high levels of lead, other jobs such as stained glass artists, metal smelters and people who work in remodeling homes, and factories where batteries are made are prone to maximum damage to the kidneys.
How Is Kidney Damage From Lead Identified?
Most people who suffer from kidney damage will not have any visible symptoms. The kidney related damage may show up as high level of protein in urine or increase in blood pressure or pain, redness and swelling in joints (symptoms of gout). If you suspect that you may have been exposed to significant amounts of lead poisoning you can get certain tests done such as:
Albumin- Creatinine Ratio test- In this lead poisoning test, a sample of urine is taken and sent to a lab. There it is checked for albumin in urine. Albumin is normally found in blood, but if albumin is found in urine (two positive results over a period of three months or more) it signifies kidney damage.
Glomerular filtration rate- It is a test for the function of the kidneys. A glomerular filtration rate of less than 60 (for a period of three months or more) indicates a chronic kidney disease.
Renal lesions also indicate lead poisoning (nephropathy due to direct toxic or hypoxic effect of lead on renal tubules).
Blood Test- If the amount of lead is more than 15 microgram per liters in blood then your blood test is positive for lead poisoning. It is important that you reduce your exposure to lead by identifying the source of exposure and removing it.
Blood pressure should also be checked regularly since lead poisoning can also lead to sustained rise in blood pressure, which in turn causes kidney damage if not controlled in time.
Lead poisoning during pregnancy puts you at a risk of miscarriage, leads to premature birth of the baby, decreased fetal size, behavioral problems and kidney damage in the newborn. Therefore, regular checkups or clinical visits are advised and also exposure to lead should be avoided.
“Lead Poisoning” – Mayo Clinic [https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lead-poisoning/symptoms-causes/syc-20354717]
“Lead and Your Health” – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) [https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/]
“Lead Exposure and Kidney Function: A Systematic Review” – National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5097746/]
“Lead Poisoning and Health” – World Health Organization (WHO) [https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/lead-poisoning-and-health]
“Lead Poisoning in Children” – American Academy of Pediatrics [https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/lead-exposure/Pages/default.aspx]