Authored by Revere Health

Signs and Symptoms of Lead Poisoning

June 28, 2017 | Family MedicineInternal Medicine

Even small amounts of lead can lead to serious health issues, and lead poisoning can occur if lead builds up in the body over months or years. Children under 6 years old are especially susceptible to lead poisoning, which can have a major effect on both mental and physical development.

Lead poisoning can come from a variety of sources, mostly involving the environment. It can be treated, and there are also several precautions you can take to help protect you and your children from the risk of exposure. Here are the basics you need to know about lead poisoning.

Symptoms and Complications

Lead poisoning can be difficult to detect because the signs and symptoms often don’t appear until dangerous amounts of lead have built up—people with high amounts of lead in their blood might seem completely healthy. Symptoms may differ based on the age of the patient. Common symptoms in children include:

  • Delay in development
  • Learning difficulties
  • Irritability
  • Loss of appetite or weight loss
  • Tiredness or sluggishness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Hearing loss
  • Seizures

In babies, a few specific symptoms might include:

  • Premature birth
  • Lower birth weight
  • Slowed growth

In adults, lead poisoning signs and symptoms could include:


  • High blood pressure
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Trouble with memory or concentration
  • Headache
  • Abdominal pain
  • Mood disorders
  • Reduced sperm count, or abnormal sperm
  • In pregnant women, miscarriage, stillbirth or premature birth


Exposure to lead can cause damage over time, particularly in children. Irreversible brain damage is possible, along with kidney and nervous system damage for people of all ages. Extreme levels of lead can cause seizures, unconsciousness and death.

Causes and Risk Factors

Lead naturally occurs in the earth’s crust, but various activities like mining, manufacturing and the production of fossil fuels have caused it to be even more common. It’s been phased out of certain popular uses, but is still common in many household items.

Common causes and sources of lead include:


  • Paint: Lead-based paint for homes has been banned since 1978 in the United States, but it’s still present in many older homes and apartments. Most cases of lead poisoning in children are a result of eating chips of deteriorating lead-based paint.
  • Water pipes and imported canned goods: Lead pipes, brass plumbing items and lead soldering on copper pipes can release lead into tap water. Lead solder is banned in the United States, but it’s still found in food cans in some other countries.
  • Soil: A common issue around highways and in some urban settings, caused by leaded gasoline or paint settling in.
  • Dust: Household dust can contain lead from paint chips, or from contaminated soil.
  • Pottery: Glazes found on certain ceramics, china and porcelain can contain lead, and this lead can make its way into food served or stored in the pottery.
  • Toys: Often from products made abroad.
  • Cosmetics: An eye cosmetic from Nigeria called Tiro has been linked to lead poisoning.
  • Herbal or folk remedies: Two Hispanic medicines called greta and azarcon have been linked to lead poisoning, along with others from India, China and other countries.
  • Tamarind: This is an ingredient used in some candies made in Mexico, and it might contain lead.
  • Lead bullets: People who spend time at firing ranges may have more chances at exposure.
  • Occupations: Certain occupations lead to higher lead exposure, including auto repair, mining, pipe fitting, battery manufacturing, painting, construction and certain others.


Risk factors that may raise your risk of lead poisoning include:


  • Age: Infants and young children are at higher risk and absorb lead more easily.
  • Older homes: Homes that contain remnants of lead-based paint pose higher risk.
  • Hobbies: Hobbies like stained glass production and certain jewelry creation requires lead solder. Refinishing old furniture might involve contact with lead paint.
  • Developing countries: Living in a developing country with more relaxed rules on lead exposure can raise risk.


Testing and Treatment

In many cases, regular checks for lead levels in children can be valuable, particularly if children hold any of the risk factors of lead poisoning. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests testing at ages 1 and 2, and doctors might suggest further testing in some cases. A simple blood test can check for lead poisoning.

To treat lead poisoning, the first step is identifying the source and attempting to remove it. In severe cases, your doctor might recommend chelation therapy (a medication that binds with lead and helps it leave the body through urine) or EDTA chelation therapy (for adults or children who can’t tolerate the drug used in conventional chelation therapy).


There are several steps you can take to lower your risk and your child’s risk of lead poisoning, all with the goal of reducing exposure both inside and outside the home:


  • Wash hands or toys regularly
  • Clean dusty surfaces
  • Remove shoes before entering the house
  • Run cold water before using water if you have older plumbing
  • Prevent children from playing on soil
  • Eat a healthy diet, especially calcium, vitamin C and iron for children
  • Keep the home well-maintained, especially with regard to any peeling paint


If you’re worried you or your child is showing signs of lead poisoning, speak to your doctor, who will give you a recommended course of action.


Schedule an appointment with a Revere Health Internal Medicine provider today!



“Lead poisoning.” The Mayo Clinic.

“Lead Poisoning – Topic Overview.” WebMD.


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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.