What is Mad Hatter’s Disease & How is it Treated? | Causes & Symptoms of Mad Hatter’s Disease

What is Mad Hatter’s Disease?

Mad Hatter’s Disease is defined as a type of mercury poisoning which has significant impact on the brain and the central nervous system. It is usually caused by inhaling mercury vapors. The primary presenting features of Mad Hatter’s Disease are emotional, behavioral, and mental changes. Environmental pollution over the years has exposed humans to innumerable metals including mercury which can have significant adverse effects on the health of a person.[1,2,3]

Exposure to mercury has been much common than most people feel. In fact, exposure to mercury has been ever increasing both through the atmosphere as well as artificially. Mercury has been used significantly for various activities. Excessive exposure to mercury can cause significant complications including cognitive issues, lack of coordination, hallucinations and sometimes it can even be life threatening.[1,2,3]

What Causes Mad Hatter’s Disease?

According to the World Health Organization, a person can be exposed to mercury either organically or inorganically. By organic exposure, they mean that a person is exposed to mercury through the atmosphere or the food that they eat and by inorganic they mean that the person is exposed artificially. The most common sources of mercury exposure are contaminated fish, some dental fillings, and industrial exposure.[2,3]

Speaking of inorganic mercury exposure certain dental filling used to fill cavities in the teeth contain mercury. A review done in 2012 mentioned that each dental filling releases up to 28 mcg of mercury everyday of which about 80% is absorbed by the body. However, according to the FDA these fillings are considered safe for people above the age of 6.[2,3]

A person can also be exposed to mercury through broken thermometers or blood pressure checking machines. Industrial exposure to mercury is also quite common as it is used in light bulbs, lamps, and batteries. With regard to organic mercury exposure, it is an element that is present in abundance in the earth’s crust. Volcanic activity causes this mercury to contaminate water which then contaminates fishes which when eaten can cause mercury exposure.[2,3]

Fishes that are common to cause mercury poisoning include Tuna, Swordfish, and shark. In the United States, there are more than 300 lakes that have been listed as not safe for fishing due to high concentrations of mercury. According to the World Health Organization, children are most at risk for mercury poisoning. This is because while playing or crawling on the floor they may inhale mercury spilled from thermometers. This in addition to the reduced lung capacity of children puts them at increased risk for mercury poisoning.[2,3]

Additionally, if a pregnant female ingests contaminated fish then it may affect the fetus as well. It may impact the way the brain and the nervous system of the baby develops in the womb. This will affect their ability to think, causes memory and attention problems, affect their movement, impair language and social skills, and also affect their movements which are all classic signs of Mad Hatter’s Disease.[2,3]

What are the Symptoms of Mad Hatter’s Disease?

Mad Hatter’s Disease can cause symptoms which can be seen immediately and in some cases the symptoms present quite late. All this depends on the extent of exposure to mercury. Almost all the neurological changes that are seen with Mad Hatter’s Disease are seen quite late after exposure to mercury. However, some of the early signs of Mad Hatter’s Disease include rash with itching sensation in the skin. There will also be sores with a metallic taste in the mouth.[3]

The person will also have muscle pain. The person may also have bouts of vomiting along with pain in the stomach. Diarrhea is also quite a common symptom of Mad Hatter’s Disease. An individual with Mad Hatter’s Disease will also complain of problems with sleep. Some of the late onset symptoms of Mad Hatter’s Disease include avoiding public places and gatherings, anxiety, tremors that start in the hands and then spreads to the face, problems with focus and concentration, and memory loss.[3]

How is Mad Hatter’s Disease Treated?

The primary focus of treatment of Mad Hatter’s Disease and mercury poisoning as a whole involves preventing any further exposure to this metal. For an individual with Mad Hatter’s Disease, oxygen therapy will be administered first followed by bronchodilators and medications that improve airflow to and from the lungs. Chelating agents will be used in people with severe mercury poisoning which allows the person to pass out the metal from the body through urine. Some of the chelating agents used to treat Mad Hatter’s Disease include dimercaprol, penicillamine, and unithiol.[3]

An article on mercury poisoning published in 2018 states that the neurological symptoms can be reversed once the body is completely free of mercury. However, if proper treatment is not given then it is quite likely that there will be a host of complications to include hypoxia in which the organs of the body do not receive enough oxygen to function normally which is quite a serious condition. There may also be permanent damage to the lungs. In some cases, people have also lost their lives as a result of Mad Hatter’s Disease or mercury poisoning.[3]

Thus it is imperative for people who feel that they have been exposed to mercury and may be at risk for mercury poisoning should consult a physician at the earliest. This is more so if the patient experiences any or all of the symptoms mentioned above. A blood test and toxicology analysis may prove whether a person has Mad Hatter’s Disease or not.[3]

In conclusion, Mad Hatter’s Disease is defined as a condition that arises due to mercury poisoning after a prolonged period of exposure to this metal. The exposure can be both organic and inorganic. Certain dental fillings have mercury in them as a component and about 35 mcg of mercury is released by them every day and 80% of this is absorbed by the body. However, according to the FDA this is quite safe for people above the age of 6.[1,2,3]

A person may also be exposed to mercury in an industrial setting, especially in places where mercury bulbs and lamps are made and also places where blood pressure machines and thermometers are manufactured. Generalized symptoms of Mad Hatter’s Disease can be seen immediately while neurological symptoms of this condition are seen at a much later stage. The neurological changes seen with Mad Hatter’s Disease are reversible if prompt treatment is given.[1,2,3]

Thus it is imperative for people who believe they have been exposed to mercury for a long time and may be at risk for mercury poisoning should consult a physician to prevent any complications of Mad Hatter’s Disease.[1,2,3]