Metal toxicity

Last updated: March 13, 2023

Summarytoggle arrow icon

Exposure to heavy metals such as mercury, lead, iron, and arsenic is harmful to the human body and can potentially cause both acute symptoms (e.g., local irritation, gastroenteritis, and pneumonia) and longterm effects (e.g., abnormal physical development, cancer, damage to the central nervous system, and kidney). Toxic metals have many industrial purposes and therefore represent occupational hazards for a number of professions. Industrial pollution with heavy metals can affect the wider population through the contamination of food (e.g., mercury in fish) and water (e.g., lead, arsenic).

For chronic diseases resulting from the inhalation of metal dust, see “Pneumoconiosis.”

General considerationstoggle arrow icon

Overview of metal toxicities [1][2][3][4]
Metal Features of intoxication Pathomechanism Diagnostics Treatment
  • Induces oxidative stress on endothelial cells and disrupts ATP production
  • Detectable in urine
  • Detectable in blood
  • Clinical
  • Irreversibly inhibits selenoenzymes (restore antioxidant molecules) → ↑ oxidative damage [5]


  • Detectable in blood and urine
  • Stop exposure
  • Cleaning contaminated skin with running water
  • Clinical
  • Discontinuation of gold therapy
  • Detectable in blood and urine [7]

Arsenic toxicitytoggle arrow icon

Lead toxicitytoggle arrow icon

ABCDEFGH: Anemia, Basophilic stippling, Constipation, Demyelination, Encephalopathy, Foot drop, Gum deposition/Growth retardation/Gout, Hyperuricemia/Hypertension

“It sucks to be a child with lead poisoning!” - succimer is used to treat lead poisoning in children.

Iron toxicitytoggle arrow icon

Acute vs. chronic iron poisoning
Characteristics Acute iron poisoning Chronic iron poisoning
  • Toxicity is common in pediatric care (ingestion of red iron tablets mistaken for candy).
Clinical features
  • Liver enzymes (AST, ALT)
  • Further diagnostics depend on the suspected underlying disease.

Mercury toxicitytoggle arrow icon

Cadmium toxicitytoggle arrow icon

Chromium toxicitytoggle arrow icon

Thallium toxicitytoggle arrow icon

  • Sources of exposure
    • Glass industry
    • Rat poison
  • Clinical features
  • Diagnostics: present in blood and/or urine

Vanadium (vanadium pentoxide)toggle arrow icon

Manganese toxicitytoggle arrow icon

Nickel toxicitytoggle arrow icon

Platinum toxicitytoggle arrow icon

Gold toxicitytoggle arrow icon

Copper toxicitytoggle arrow icon

Referencestoggle arrow icon

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  30. $Oral chelation therapy for patients with lead poisoning.
  31. $Review of Succimer for treatment of lead poisoning .
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