What is the pathophysiology of elemental mercury toxicity?

Updated: Nov 05, 2018
  • Author: David A Olson, MD; Chief Editor: Tarakad S Ramachandran, MBBS, MBA, MPH, FAAN, FACP, FAHA, FRCP, FRCPC, FRS, LRCP, MRCP, MRCS  more...
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Answer

Elemental mercury (Hg) is found in liquid form, which easily vaporizes at room temperature and is well absorbed (80%) through inhalation. Its lipid-soluble property allows for easy passage through the alveoli into the bloodstream and red blood cells (RBCs). Once inhaled, elemental mercury is mostly converted to an inorganic divalent or mercuric form by catalase in the erythrocytes. This inorganic form has similar properties to inorganic mercury (eg, poor lipid solubility, limited permeability to the blood-brain barrier, and excretion in feces). Small amounts of nonoxidized elemental mercury continue to persist and account for central nervous system toxicity.


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