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What are the Signs of Lead Poisoning?

By Meghan Perry
Updated May 17, 2024
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There are a wide array of signs of lead poisoning; as a result, the condition is often difficult to diagnose and is sometimes mistaken for a variety of other illnesses. Lead poisoning most often affects three major organs: the kidneys, stomach, and central nervous system. Symptoms may differ depending upon the organs most affected. For example, kidney damage may result in damage to the renal system. This can cause serious problems, such as kidney failure.

The digestive system is also affected by lead poisoning. Signs of lead poisoning related to the stomach include stomach pains, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation. Other symptoms to look for include lack of appetite and weight loss. These symptoms can be common in both adults and children with lead poisoning.

When the central nervous system is affected, signs of lead poisoning sometimes include headaches and joint pain. Sensations may be dulled, and coordination is sometimes decreased. In more serious cases of lead poisoning, seizures, coma, or paralysis are possible signs. Such symptoms usually mean that lead levels in the blood are dangerously high, and medical treatment should be sought immediately.

Lead poisoning can also affect the reproductive system of both genders. In males, it can cause a lower sperm count. It can cause infertility in females. In addition, pregnant women may be prone to miscarriages. If a pregnancy is brought to term and the unborn child was exposed to lead, the child may be smaller in size and have slower growth.

In addition to physical symptoms, lead poisoning can also present itself in other ways. Children may exhibit learning problems or aggressive behavior. They may also have an IQ that is lower than average. Hyperactivity can be another sign of lead poisoning in children.

Adults can also exhibit signs of lead poisoning in behavioral or neurological ways. For example, severe mood swings or increased irritability may occur. Changes in sleeping habits and memory loss may be other symptoms. Being easily distracted or unable to concentrate for a prolonged period of time may also be signs of lead poisoning.

Lead poisoning generally builds up over time. The most common source of lead poisoning is paint; it is often more common in children because they may eat the paint or paint chips that contain lead. Lead paint is most often found in older houses, as lead was removed from paint in U.S. in the late 1970s.

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