Can You Die From Lead Poisoning?

Lead is a heavy base metal mostly found in the earth’s crust and is used all around us. Lead has many uses such as in metal products (pipes and solders), production of batteries, ammunitions, X-rays shields, paints and ceramic products, art supplies and caulking. It is also emanated from fossil fuel burning and gasoline. However, the use of lead in paints, caulking and gasoline in recent times has diminished largely due to health concerns; it is still a major health concern.

Can You Die From Lead Poisoning?

A person can die from lead poisoning, although lead poisoning is a slow process and it takes years to build up lead in body for it to be toxic enough to the body. Thus, lead poisoning is not acute and it takes time for toxicity to develop. There are many signs and symptoms of lead toxicity, which when not treated can turn fatal/death.

-Lead poisoning affects most of the organs including cardiovascular system (heart and blood vessels), gastrointestinal system, musculoskeletal system, reproductive system, hematological system, renal system, eyes and also affects fetal development.

-When lead is ingested, the gastrointestinal system is the first to be affected by lead poisoning and shows symptoms of toxicity. It starts with mild stomach pain that progress to constipation, nausea, abdominal cramps and vomiting. These symptoms are unspecific and thus the diagnosis of lead poisoning in the initial stages is difficult as there are no specific symptoms that point toward it.

-The symptoms progress and there is appetite loss, which cause weight loss, irritability and insomnia. Children are the worst sufferers as their bodies easily absorb lead and this can affect their growth and performance at school.

-Lead poisoning may also lead to mood swings and depression. All this may be related to loss of appetite, sleep deprivation, stomach discomfort. The person becomes irritable and may even exhibit aggressiveness and personality changes. These personality changes and mood swings are a sign of neurological involvement due to accumulation of lead in the nervous system.

-The circulating lead in the bloodstream may also affect blood pressure and may lead to elevated blood pressure levels. Elevated blood pressure directly and adversely affects heart. Fatigue is the most common symptom and the individual will easily get tired on running and climbing a flight of stairs or even getting out of bed.

-Pain becomes generalized and spreads to joints, muscles, and even head. Headache, backache, muscle pain and joint pain make everyday chores difficult to perform that may even lead to dizziness.

-Lead poisoning is also known to affect reproductive system, often causing infertility and impotence and if conceived then it may lead to developmental disorders in the fetus.

-Neurological involvement can cause loss of coordination along with muscle weakness and tingling, speech problems and difficulty walking with frequent stumbling. There is also difficulty in performing simple tasks such as tying shoelaces, buttoning of shirts, cooking and studying. All this may be attributed to oxygen deficient blood reaching the brain as the individual becomes clumsy.

As there is increased accumulation of lead in the body, the neurological symptoms worsen and the individual starts showing signs of confusion with lack of association with the environment and surroundings. In developing children, the IQ is affected and there is decreased cognition and decreased development of mental faculty. The affected child becomes inattentive; focus is lost and gets distracted easily. Lead poisoning can lead to permanent damage to cognition in children.

Lead poisoning leads to seizures and finally leads to coma, if it becomes severe. At this stage, the vital organs start shutting down and it denotes the end stage. After coma, the person may eventually die. However, this process may take years, as it is a very slow process. On occasions, though extremely rare, an individual can ingest high amounts of lead and that can lead to acute poisoning and death in days or weeks.

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:August 8, 2018

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