What Are the Short- and Long-Term Effects of Lead Poisoning?


Quick Answer

The short-term effects of overexposure to lead include abdominal pain, irritability, loss of appetite, fatigue and constipation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Overexposure may also cause anaemia, kidney and brain damage, weakness and death. Effects of long-term exposure to lead include reduced fertility, increased risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and kidney disease.

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Full Answer

Acute toxicity is exposure to large amounts of lead over a short period, whereas chronic toxicity is exposure to small amounts of lead over a prolonged period. Lead exposure occurs through inhalation of lead fumes or dust, and ingestion through contaminated hands, fluids or foods. Once in the body, most of the lead resides in bones and may find its way into the blood, leading to re-exposure of the body systems long after the initial exposure, notes the New York State Department of Health.

High levels of lead exposure in children may cause coma, convulsions and death. Behavioral disruptions and mental retardation may occur in children who survive severe lead exposure. Exposure may also cause renal impairment, immunotoxicity, hypertension and toxicity of the reproductive organs. Lead poisoning during pregnancy may cause stillbirth, miscarriage, premature birth, low birth weight or minor malformations, explains WHO. Lead exposure may also cause infertility in men and women.

Children are at a higher risk of lead poisoning than adults, explains the World Health Organization. Undernourished children suffer more risk because their bodies absorb more lead if other nutrients such as calcium are absent.

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