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Heavy Metal Poisoning

Heavy metals are metals with metallic chemical elements that have a relatively high density and may be toxic or poisonous at certain levels of concentrations. Some popular examples include copper, mercury, cadmium, arsenic, chromium, thallium, and lead.

These metals have several important uses, especially in industry, medicine, agriculture, to mention but a few. Zinc, blue cobalt or manganese are some examples of heavy metals found in the designation of paint pigments. Fertilizer products are also known to contain arsenic, cadmium, and lead. The list is endless.

Interestingly, some of these heavy metals are present in the body system and are needed for proper body function. Where these elements are absent or below the levels required, it could cause certain body defects or system failure.

Heavy metal toxicity or metal poisoning is the toxic effect of certain metals in certain forms and doses on life. It has also been defined as a generic term for an above-average level of metal in the blood which may result in undesirable side-effects. Examples of metals with toxic effects, when exposed to the body at levels or degrees that are not permissible, include arsenic, mercury, lead and cadmium.

Geogenic, industrial, agricultural, pharmaceutical, domestic effluents, and atmospheric sources are possible conduits of exposure to these metals in high concentration. To put it simply, the environment, food, water, medicine, paint, among others, could cause metal poisoning.


Symptoms Of Heavy Metal Poisoning

General Symptoms:


  1. Fatigue

  2. Weakness

  3. Diarrhea

  4. Abdominal pain

  5. Nausea, vomiting

  6. Shortness of breath

  7. Skeletal deformities in children

  8. Miscarriages or birth defects in pregnant women

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Mercury poisoning symptoms:

  • Lack of coordination

  • Muscle weakness

  • Hearing and speech difficulties

  • Nerve damage in your hands and face

  • Vision changes

  • Trouble walking

Dental x-ray

Arsenic poisoning symptoms:

  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea

  • Red or swollen skin

  • Spots on your skin, such as warts or lesions

  • Unusual heart rhythm

  • Muscle cramps

Sushi on Plate

Lead poisoning symptoms:

  • Constipation

  • Aggressive behaviour

  • Sleep problems

  • Irritability

  • High blood pressure

  • Loss of appetite

  • Anaemia

  • Headaches

  • Fatigue

  • Memory loss

  • Loss of developmental skills in children

Paint Cans

Sources of Exposure to Various Heavy Metals:


  • Mining, producing or transporting mercury

  • Dental fillings 

  • Consuming contaminated fish or water

  • Manufacturing mirrors, X-ray machines, incandescent lights, or vacuum pumps


  • Working near a hazardous waste site

  • Living in an area that has high levels in rocks, water, and soil

  • Ingesting insecticides, pesticides, or herbicides

  • Eating contaminated seafood or algae

  • Drinking contaminated water

Perfect Smile
Fish Fillet
Sushi Platter


  • Living in a home with high levels of lead-based paint

  • Doing industrial construction work, radiator repair, or smelter operations

  • Being in firing ranges

  • Applying progressive hair dyes. 

  • Using foreign digestive remedies, calcium products, kohl, Surma, kajal, or progressive hair dyes


  • Working in an industrial setting, especially one where ore is processed or smelted

  • Welding on alloys that contain cadmium 

  • Inhaling cigarette smoke

Hair Dying
Old Building Windows
Metallic Pieces


Provoked or unprovoked urine and blood test can be done to detect heavy metal levels in the body. A sample report showing several metals in addition to lead, mercury, arsenic and cadmium is displayed below. 

In order to do provoked urine test, a single dose of weight appropriate provocation agent such as DMSA needs to be taken prior to collecting urine sample for the next 2-6 hours. This ensures elimination of toxins from the body into the urine so that these can be detected. 


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Where the heavy metal poisoning is mild or perhaps negligible, the best course of action would be to eliminate these sources of exposure. You might need to have a change of environment or probably change your diet depending on the identified source of exposure.

Where the cases are extreme, the standard treatment is what is known as chelation therapy. Chelation therapy is a medical procedure that involves the administration of chelating agents to remove heavy metals from the body. The medications used in this procedure are known as chelators.

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