Lead Poisoning or Plumbism: Causes, Signs, Symptoms, Treatment, Sources, Prevention, Effects

What is Lead Poisoning or Plumbism?

Lead poisoning or Plumbism is a condition which occurs when there is accumulation of lead in body, usually over a few months’ time period and even years. Lead poisoning or Plumbism occurs when an individual has absorbed excessive lead by either swallowing a lead containing substance or breathing it, such as dust, water, paint or food. Excessive lead results in damage to almost every organ system in body. Even if the quantity of lead present in body is small, it still can result in potentially serious consequences. Children who are aged under six are more prone to Lead Poisoning or Plumbism. Lead poisoning can affect the physical and mental development in the child. Lead, if present in high levels, can be very fatal.

Lead Poisoning or Plumbism

Lead poisoning or Plumbism in the initial stages is difficult to identify. Individuals who are apparently healthy may have elevated levels of lead in blood. Usually symptoms of lead poisoning or Plumbism appear after excessive amount of lead has been accumulated. Even exposure to low levels of lead causes damage, particularly in children. There may be irreversible damage to brain development. Very high levels of lead also causes damage to the kidneys and nervous system in children and as well as adults causing seizures, unconsciousness and even death.

What Causes Lead Poisoning or Plumbism?

The most common cause for lead poisoning or Plumbism among children is: lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust in old buildings. Other causes for Lead Poisoning or Plumbism are contaminated water, soil and air. Adults who work with batteries, home renovations or in auto repair shops also may be exposed to lead. The best treatment for Lead Poisoning or Plumbism is eliminating the source of lead exposure from the environment.

What Are The Sources of Lead Poisoning or Plumbism?

  • Lead is found naturally in earth’s crust. Certain activities like burning of fossil fuel, mining and manufacturing makes it more prevalent. Lead is used in solder, pipes, batteries, roofing materials, pottery and some cosmetics.
  • Lead based paints used in houses, toys for children, and furniture also pose a risk for Lead Poisoning or Plumbism.
  • Lead may also be present in soil, pottery, toys, household dust, pottery and traditional cosmetics like kohl.
  • Water pipes, lead pipes, copper pipes and brass plumbing fixtures containing lead discharges particles of lead into tap water and may result in Lead Poisoning or Plumbism.
  • Use of some traditional medicines may also cause Lead Poisoning or Plumbism. Some of these traditional medicines are litargirio/ litharge, greta/ azarcon, ba-baw-san, daw tway and ghasard.

Who Can Suffer from Lead Poisoning or Plumbism?

  • Age: Infants and children are more prone to lead exposure.
  • Lead based paints have been prohibited since 1970s; however, individuals who are renovating older homes are at higher risk for contracting Lead Poisoning or Plumbism.
  • Hobbies like stained glass making also increases the risk for lead poisoning as it requires the usage of lead solder.
  • Redoing old furniture also puts an individual in contact with lead paint.
  • Individuals living in developing countries are at a greater risk for Lead Poisoning or Plumbism.

Signs and Symptoms of Lead Poisoning or Plumbism

Effects of Lead Poisoning or Plumbism in Newborns

  • Learning problems.
  • Reduced growth.

Effects of Lead Poisoning or Plumbism in Adults

  • Hypertension
  • Deteriorating mental performance
  • Pain, numbness or tingling in the extremities
  • Headache
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Muscular weakness
  • Loss of memory
  • Mood disturbances
  • Abnormal sperm or decreased sperm count
  • Miscarriage or premature birth in pregnant ladies.

Effects of Lead Poisoning or Plumbism in Children

Investigations to Diagnose Lead Poisoning or Plumbism

A simple blood test is done to detect Lead Poisoning or Plumbism. It is recommended by Center for Disease Control and Prevention to test children to look for lead poisoning between ages one and two. It is also recommended to test children aged between three and six in case they:

  • Have not been tested for Lead Poisoning or Plumbism previously.
  • Have a sibling or friend who has suffered from lead poisoning.
  • Live in or often visit a home which was built before 1950 or built before 1978 and was remodeled recently.
  • Receive public assistance like Medicaid.

Treatment for Lead Poisoning or Plumbism

In order to treat Lead Poisoning or Plumbism successfully, first of all, the source of lead contamination should be eliminated. If it is not possible to remove the lead completely from the environment, then you should try to decrease the chances of it causing problems such as in some cases it is better to seal up old lead containing paints instead of removing it.

For Treating Severe Cases of Lead Poisoning or Plumbism, Physician May Suggest Following:

  • Chelation therapy to treat Lead Poisoning or Plumbism where a medication is given, which binds with lead and is excreted through urine.
  • EDTA therapy for Lead Poisoning or Plumbism is used to treat those cases where lead levels are greater than 40 mcg/dL of blood.

Prevention of Lead Poisoning or Plumbism

  • Washing hands of children after playing outdoors before eating helps reducing hand to mouth transfer of contaminated soil.
  • Cleaning dusty surfaces regularly like floors, windowsills, furniture etc. using wet cloth or mop can go a long way in preventing Lead Poisoning or Plumbism.
  • Another useful way to prevent Lead Poisoning or Plumbism is to always run cold water for minimum a minute before using, if there are old pipes made of lead. One should not use tap water for cooking or to prepare baby foods.
  • If you are remodeling or renovating an old house with lead based paint then do not use sanding technique foe removal of lead paint, as sanding on surfaces, which are painted using lead releases huge amounts of minute particles containing lead.
  • Never use open flame torches to remove lead based paint, as there is a danger of inhaling the small lead particles.
  • It is better to seal or cover the old paint than removing it in order to prevent Lead Poisoning or Plumbism.
  • Always wear protective clothing and other equipment.
  • Always take a shower, wash your hair and change your clothes after finishing the job. Don’t wash work clothes with your regular clothes.
  • Avoid eating or drinking in a place where there may be lead dust present.
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 27, 2018

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