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Children's Health

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Lead Poisoning - Topic Overview

What are the symptoms?

You may not notice any symptoms at first. The effects are easy to miss and may seem related to other conditions. The higher the amount of lead in the body, the more severe the symptoms are.

In children, symptoms can include:

  • Slightly lower intelligence and smaller size compared to children of the same age.
  • Behavior problems, such as acting angry, moody, or hyperactive.
  • Learning problems.
  • Lack of energy, and not feeling hungry.

In adults, lead poisoning can cause:

Severe cases can cause seizures, paralysis, and coma.

How is lead poisoning diagnosed?

The doctor will ask questions and do a physical exam to look for signs of lead poisoning. If your doctor suspects lead poisoning, he or she will do a blood test to find out the amount of lead in the blood.

Diagnosing lead poisoning is difficult, because the symptoms can be caused by many diseases. Most children with lead poisoning don't have symptoms until their blood lead levels are very high.

In the United States, there are screening programs to check lead levels in children who are likely to be exposed to lead. Whether your child needs to be tested depends in part on where you live, how old your housing is, and other risk factors. Talk to your child's doctor about whether your child is at risk and should be screened.

Adults usually aren't screened for lead poisoning unless they have a job that involves working with lead. For these workers, companies usually are required to provide testing.

If you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant and have a family member who works with lead, you may want to ask your doctor about your risk for lead poisoning. But in general, experts don't recommend routine testing for lead in pregnant women who don't have symptoms.2

How is it treated?

Treatment for lead poisoning includes removing the source of lead, getting good nutrition, and, in some cases, having chelation therapy.

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