How is acute lead poisoning treated?

Updated: Jan 16, 2020
  • Author: Pranay Kathuria, MD, FACP, FASN, FNKF; Chief Editor: Tarakad S Ramachandran, MBBS, MBA, MPH, FAAN, FACP, FAHA, FRCP, FRCPC, FRS, LRCP, MRCP, MRCS  more...
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In the acute setting, if suggestive radiopacities are observed on a plain radiograph of the abdomen, gastric lavage, cathartics, or whole bowel irrigation may be used to limit lead absorption.

With acute lead poisoning, the indications for chelation therapy are well defined. Institute chelation therapy in children with BLLs of 45 µg/dL or higher. Treat children whose BLLs are 70 µg/dL or higher as medical emergencies.

Succimer and penicillamine may be given orally. Penicillamine may be used when blood lead levels are 25-40 µg/dL, especially with a negative CaNa2 EDTA mobilization test result. Succimer may be an alternative; its main indication is in persons whose BLLs are 45 µg/dL or higher.

Intravenous (IV) therapy is preferable for persons with BLLs of 70 µg/dL or higher. Use the combination of dimercaprol and CaNa2 EDTA with BLLs of 70 µg/dL or higher and in the presence of lead encephalopathy.

In adults, consider chelation therapy for patients with blood lead levels BLLs of 70 µg/dL or higher. Also consider chelation therapy in symptomatic adults with BLLs exceeding 50 µg/dL. Available chelation agents for adults are dimercaprol and CaNa2 EDTA; penicillamine and succimer do not have US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for this application, although they are effective treatments.

Chelation therapy reverses Fanconi syndrome, transient hypertension, and tubular structural changes observed on histopathology findings.

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