How does inorganic mercury cause 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

Inorganic mercury toxicity occurs in several forms: metallic mercury (Hg), mercurous mercury (Hg1+), or mercuric mercury (Hg2+). Found mostly in the mercuric salt form (eg, batteries), inorganic mercury is highly toxic and corrosive. It gains access to the body orally or dermally and is absorbed at a rate of 10% of that ingested. It has a nonuniform mode of distribution secondary to poor lipid solubility and accumulates mostly in the kidney, causing significant renal damage. Although poor lipid-solubility characteristics limit CNS penetration, slow elimination and chronic exposure allow for significant CNS accumulation of mercuric ions and subsequent toxicity. Long-term dermal exposure to inorganic mercury may also lead to toxicity.


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