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5 Things to Know About the Health Effects of Lead Exposure

Lead is a naturally occurring element used for batteries, weights, and cable sheathing, but it used to be even more common in consumer and industrial products. Recent decades proved that ingesting lead through everyday items, such as exposed food and water, could lead to serious health effects.

While there are a lot fewer lead products out there today that would expose you in that way, old dishes, water pipes, and paints can be extremely toxic long-term. That doesn’t mean you have to throw away anything made before the 1980s, but it’s good to have any items that could result in lead ingestion tossed out.

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Sometimes, exposure to lead is hard to control. You’ve likely heard of the crisis in Flint, Michigan, where tens of thousands of residents unknowingly drank city water with such high levels of lead that it caused an outbreak of Legionnaires disease. Dozens of people became severely ill and at least 12 died from the infection.

It’s essential to know the health effects of lead exposure so you can properly work to manage and treat the conditions appropriately. Here are five things to know about the health effects of lead exposure.

1. Kids Are More Sensitive to Lead

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Children’s bodies are more sensitive to lead than adult bodies, but children under the age of 6 are the most susceptible because their bodies are rapidly developing. Exposure can lead to intellectual disabilities and poor academic functioning. It can also lead to behavior conditions, hyperactivity, stunted growth, and hearing or seeing difficulties.

Children can be exposed to lead by putting objects made from it in their mouths or by putting their hands in their mouths after touching lead dust from an object.

Kids often don’t experience immediate symptoms, but rather ones that show up gradually over time. If you suspect lead exposure is affecting your child, see a medical provider who can provide a confirmatory blood test.

2. It Can Damage the Kidneys

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Lead exposure can bring about kidney damage by affecting renal tube function. Researchers in a 2018 study discovered that regular lead exposure can lead to high creatine levels and chronic kidney disease.

Symptoms of chronic kidney disease include increased or decreased urination, muscle cramping, and increased fatigue. In some cases, chronic kidney disease can lead to complications like heart and bone disease.

It’s important to get checked if you have any symptoms of kidney disease whether or not you were exposed to lead. However, you should let your provider know if you possibly ingested the element.

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3. It Effects Fertility

Unfortunately, infertility affects up to 15% of couples in the United States. Some of these cases were linked to prolonged lead exposure.

Lead can cause defects in both sperm and eggs, leading to the inability to conceive, preterm birth, or possibly miscarriage.

Studies show that lead can cross the placental barrier, causing harm to a fetus. While not suspected as the first cause, you should inform your doctor if you and your partner are struggling with infertility and one of you has had likely lead exposure.

4. It Causes Higher Blood Pressure

Lead exposure can increase your blood pressure, which can lead to serious complications. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to a heart attack, stroke, aneurysm, heart failure, and dementia, among other conditions.

Symptoms of high blood pressure include severe headaches, fatigue, confusion, nosebleeds, vision problems, and chest pain. If you experience any of these symptoms, see your health care professional.

5. It’s More Common Than You Think

You might think that lead exposure isn’t a common occurrence. It’s true that it’s not as common as it used to be. However, over half a million children ages 1-5 in the United States have damaging levels of lead in their blood.

Moreover, it’s estimated that over half of adults in the country experienced harmful lead exposure as a child. While you shouldn’t panic about these statistics, it’s essential to be aware that lead exposure is still occurring and to get anything that might contribute to lead exposure tested or replaced.

Knowing the Effects of Lead Exposure

You should know the effects of lead exposure so you can accurately gauge whether you or your child may be dealing with its effects. Knowing about exposure can help you be proactive about treatment for better outcomes.

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