Acute exposure to a high, toxic dose of lead is considered a medical emergency and can result in severe abdominal cramping, vomiting, muscle weakness and encephalopathy, reports Healthline. However, most exposure to lead involves the accumulation of small doses from environmental sources over a long time period. Lead poisoning is commonly treated with chelating agents such as dimercaprol and EDTA, according to the Merck Manual.
Exposure to lead can cause developmental issues in children, note MedlinePlus. Lead is much more harmful to children than adults due to its ability to interfere with normal development of the brain and nervous system. Chronic subacute exposure can be just as harmful as a single large dose. Children who are poisoned by lead may suffer from behavior or attention problems, poor performance in school, reduced IQ and slowed body growth.
In additions to central nervous system toxicity, lead can cause irreversible damage to the kidneys, notes the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Lead inhibits vitamin D synthesis in the body, impairing tooth and bone development. Lead poisoning is also known to cause hypertension, which increases the risk for heart disease. Lead can affect the reproductive system, reducing fertility in males and harming the fetus in pregnant females. In addition, lead interferes with normal formation of hemoglobin, possibly leading to anemia, reports the Merck Manual.