• Arsenic Toxicity

    (Arsenic Poisoning)

    Definition

    Arsenic toxicity occurs when a person is exposed to arsenic. Arsenic is a naturally occurring element in the earth’s crust. It has no smell or taste. If you suspect you have been exposed to arsenic, contact your doctor immediately.
    There are two primary forms of arsenic:
    • Inorganic arsenic—arsenic combined with oxygen, chlorine, or sulfur; found in the environment
    • Organic arsenic—arsenic combined with carbon and hydrogen; found in animals and plants
    Inorganic arsenic is usually more harmful than organic arsenic.

    Causes

    Arsenic occurs naturally in soil and minerals, and may enter the air, water, and soil. It is also used:
    • To preserve or pressure-treat wood (this use is being phased out except for specific applications such as railroad ties and utility poles, but old stocks may still be around and pose a risk)
    • As a pesticide
    • To produce glass
    • In copper and other metal manufacturing
    • In the electronics industry
    • In medicine
    Arsenic toxicity may occur when a person is exposed to toxic amounts of arsenic due to:
    • Breathing air containing arsenic
    • Eating food contaminated with arsenic
    • Drinking water contaminated with arsenic
    • Living in areas with high natural levels of arsenic
    • Working in a job that involves arsenic
    The Lungs
    BQ00001
    Arsenic can be inhaled into the lungs.
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

    Risk Factors

    Anyone can develop arsenic toxicity as a result of arsenic exposure. But certain people are more likely to be exposed to arsenic. The following factors increase your chances of being exposed to arsenic. If you have any of these risk factors, tell your doctor:
      Working in:
      • Companies that preserve wood with arsenic
      • Metal manufacturing industry
      • Glass production industry
      • Electronic industry
      • Other industries that use arsenic
    • Living in an area with high natural levels of arsenic
    • Smoking (Arsenic is found in tobacco products, like cigarettes.)
    In addition, children may be more susceptible than adults to the health effects of arsenic. There is some evidence that arsenic exposure may harm pregnant women and their unborn babies.

    Symptoms

    Ingesting very high levels of arsenic can result in death. Arsenic has also been linked to increased risks of cancer of the lung , skin , bladder , liver , kidney , and prostate .
    Symptoms of arsenic exposure include:
    • Headache
    • Thickening of skin
    • Discoloration of skin
    • Small “corns” or “warts” on the palms, soles, and torso
    • Stomach pain
    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
    • Diarrhea
    • Decreased production of red and white blood cells
    • Abnormal heart rhythm
    • Damage to blood vessels
    • Numbness in hands and feet
    • Partial paralysis
    • Blindness
    • Garlic taste in mouth
    • Drowsiness
    • Seizures
    In addition, people exposed to arsenic may be at a greater risk of developing heart disease.

    Diagnosis

    Your doctor will:
    • Ask about your symptoms
    • Take your medical history
    • Do a physical exam
    It can be difficult to make a diagnosis of arsenic poisoning because symptoms are so varied. If you have concerns about arsenic causing symptoms in yourself or a family member, talk to your doctor. The following tests may be done:
    • Blood tests
    • Urine tests
    • Hair or fingernail analysis

    Treatment

    There is no effective treatment for arsenic toxicity. There is increasing evidence that chelation therapy may benefit some arsenic poisoned persons. Chelation therapy involves putting a chemical, or chelating agent , into the bloodstream. The chelating agent combines with a toxin to help remove it from the body. Chelating agents may be given by pill or by injection.
    If chelation is not indicated or is ineffective, your treatment will be designed to help manage and relieve your symptoms. Treatment may include IV hydration, for example.

    Prevention

    To help reduce your chances of getting arsenic toxicity, take the following steps:
    • If you work with arsenic-treated wood at home, wear a dust mask, gloves, and protective clothing. Do not burn any wood that has been treated with arsenic compounds.
    • If you live in an area with high natural levels of arsenic, use cleaner sources of water and limit contact with soil. If you have well water, have it tested for a variety of contaminants, including arsenic.
    • If you smoke, quit .

    RESOURCES

    Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease RegistryCenters for Disease Control and Prevention http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov

    US Environmental Protection Agency http://www.epa.gov

    CANADIAN RESOURCES

    Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety http://www.ccohs.ca

    Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

    References

    Arsenic and drinking water from private wells. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/drinking/private/wells/disease/arsenic.html . Updated May 3, 2010. Accessed April 2, 2013.

    Arsenic poisoning. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/ . Updated December 4, 2012. Accessed April 2, 2013.

    Chen Y, Graziano JH, Parvez F, et al. Arsenic exposure from drinking water and mortality from cardiovascular disease in Bangladesh: prospective cohort study. BMJ. 2011;342:d2431.

    Fauci A. Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine . 16th ed. New York, NY: McGraw Hill; 2005.

    Fourth national report on exposure to environmental chemicals. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/exposurereport/pdf/FourthReport.pdf . Published 2009. Accessed April 2, 2013.

    ToxFAQs for arsenic. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry website. Available at: http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/tfacts2.html . Updated July 20, 2010. Accessed April 2, 2013.

    Revision Information

  • Join WellZones today.

    Make a Change For LifeLearn more

    Wellmont LiveWell is creating a new tradition of wellness in the mountains by providing individuals with tools and encouragement to live healthier lifestyles.

  • HeartSHAPE Spotlight

    At risk for a heart attack? Learn more

    Fight heart disease early and prevent heart attacks with HeartSHAPE® - a painless, non-invasive test that takes pictures of your heart to scan for early-stage coronary disease.

  • Calories and Energy Needs

    Calorie NeedsLearn more

    How many calories do you need to eat each day to maintain your weight and fuel your physical activity? Enter a few of your stats into this calculator to find out.

  • Ideal Body Weight

    Ideal Body WeightLearn more

    Using body mass index as a reference, this calculator determines your ideal body weight range. All you need to do is enter your height.

  • Body Mass Index

    Body Mass IndexLearn more

    This tool considers your height and weight to assess your weight status.


  • Can we help answer your questions?

    Wellmont Nurse Connection is your resource for valuable health information any time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Speak to a Nurse any time, day or night, at (423) 723-6877 or toll-free at 1-877-230-NURSE.