This information is provided by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD).
Heavy metal poisoning refers to when excessive exposure to a heavy metal affects the normal function of the body. Examples of heavy metals that can cause toxicity include lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, and chromium. Exposure may occur through the diet, from medications, from the environment, or in the course of work or play. Heavy metals can enter the body through the skin, or by inhalation or ingestion. Toxicity can result from sudden, severe exposure, or from chronic exposure over time. Symptoms can vary depending on the metal involved, the amount absorbed, and the age of the person exposed. For example, young children are more susceptible to the effects of lead exposure because they absorb more compared with adults and their brains are still developing. Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain are common symptoms of acute metal ingestion. Chronic exposure may cause various symptoms resulting from damage to body organs, and may increase the risk of cancer. Treatment depends on the circumstances of the exposure.
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