Lead poisoning

Synonyms: Plumbism

Medical Specialties: Family practice, Internal medicine, Pediatrics


Clinical Definition

Lead poisoning is a condition usually occurring as a result of ingesting lead-based paint. It is especially dangerous for young children and babies, as it can damage children's developing nervous system, and other organs, triggering behavioral problems, learning issues and other problems. Symptoms may also include hyperactivity, headaches, vomiting and fatigue. A blood test finding 5 micrograms per deciliter means the level is higher than that of most children. At 45 micrograms, chelation therapy is recommended.


In Our Own Words

Lead poisoning is a condition that can adversely affect children's nervous system, brain health and other organs. It is linked to learning, behavior and health problems, too. Most children ingest it from lead-based paint or scrapings, now outlawed but still present in some houses built before 1978. Lead can also be found in soil contaminated by house paint scrapings or soil near highways, from decades of deposited car exhaust, or even the occasional children’s toy imported from overseas.

If a child has symptoms such as hyperactivity, learning problems, behavior changes and headaches, a blood test to measure lead levels may be ordered. If that level is 5 micrograms per deciliter, that means the child is in the highest 2.5 percent of children ages 1 to 5. Parents should know about the exposure, but using chemicals to remove the lead is not recommended. If levels reach 45 micrograms or higher, treatment is recommended with chelation therapy. It involves administration of a chemical solution intravenously (IV) to pull toxins from the blood stream.

Relevant Conditions
  • Environmental exposures
  • Developmental delay
  • Childhood behavioral issues
Side Effects
  • Hyperactivity
  • Learning problems
  • Behavior changes
  • Loss of developmental skills in young children
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Abdominal pain
  • Anemia
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