HomeHealth articlesheavy metal toxicityWhat Are the Harmful Effects of Heavy Metal Toxicity?

Heavy Metal Toxicity - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Preventions

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Heavy metal poisoning occurs when a person gets exposed to heavy toxic metals like iron, arsenic, or mercury.

Written by

Dr. Osheen Kour

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar

Published At December 22, 2022
Reviewed AtJanuary 25, 2023


Heavy metal poisoning can occur when a person gets exposed to different types of heavy metals, causing toxicity and health hazards. It is more common in children than adults. This is because heavy metals pollute the environment, affecting human life.

These heavy metals also cause toxicity by acting as an essential metal element in the body and affecting the metabolism processes causing health issues. In addition, heavy metals can also accumulate in the food chain, pass on toxicity between different species, and thus become difficult to avoid. Therefore, these metals should be handled with utmost care and caution to protect yourself and the environment.

What Are the Symptoms Caused by Heavy Metal Poisoning?

The symptoms caused by heavy metal poisoning are as follows:

  • Nausea.

  • Vomiting.

  • Chills.

  • Abdominal pain.

  • Weakness.

  • Shortness of breath.

  • Diarrhea.

  • Dehydration.

  • Numbness and tingling sensation in hands and feet.

What Are the Different Types of Heavy Metals That Cause Poisoning?

Heavy metals are metallic elements that can cause severe or heavy toxicity even at a very low level of exposure. They usually have high densities, atomic numbers, and atomic weights and The different types of heavy metals include

  • Mercury.

  • Lead.

  • Arsenic.

  • Zinc.

  • Cadmium.

  • Copper.

  • Iron.

What Are the Severe Health Risks Caused by Heavy Metal Poisoning?

Severe health risks caused by heavy metal poisoning include

  • Kidney damage.

  • Liver damage.

  • Brain damage.

  • Memory loss.

  • Anemia.

  • Breathing difficulty.

  • Irregular heartbeats.

  • Risk of cancer.

  • Miscarriage in pregnant women.

  • Damage to cellular functions, DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), and lipid membrane.

What Are the Causes of Heavy Metal Poisoning?

Heavy metal poisoning is caused due to the following reasons:


  • A person working in mines and refineries of silver and gold ores.

  • Contaminated water and fish can also cause mercury poisoning.

  • Mercury production and transportation.

  • People work in the manufacturing of vacuum pumps, X-ray machines, mirrors, and incandescent lights.


  • Herbicides, pesticides, and insecticide ingestion can cause arsenic poisoning.

  • Contaminated seafood with arsenic constituents.

  • People working near hazardous waste sites.

  • Drinking water contaminated with arsenic.


  • People working on construction sites repair radiators and smelting processes.

  • Kohl's cosmetic products also contain lead.

  • Use of high lead-based paints at home.

  • Use of hair dyes, calcium products, and kajal.


  • Cigarette smoke contains cadmium.

  • Ore processing and smelting in an industrial setting also contain cadmium.

  • Alloys used for welding contain cadmium.

How Do Heavy Metals Enter Into the Body of a Person?

Heavy metals can enter a person's body in various ways, such as

  • Breathing or inhaling heavy metals through the environment can cause toxicity.

  • Heavy metals can be Ingested through food and drinking water, and thus cause toxicity, such as arsenic, magnesium, etc.

  • Skin absorption of heavy metals like lead can also lead to heavy metal toxicity.

What Are the Metal-Specific Symptoms Caused by Heavy Metal Poisoning?

Lead Poisoning Symptoms:

  • Loss of appetite.

  • High blood pressure.

  • Constipation.

  • Irritability.

  • Fatigue.

  • Headaches.

  • Memory loss.

  • Disturbed sleep.

  • Anemia.

  • Developmental issues in children.

Mercury Poisoning Symptoms

  • Vision defect.

  • Lack of coordination.

  • Walking difficulty.

  • Speech and hearing difficulties.

  • Muscle weakness.

  • Facial nerve damage.

Cadmium Poisoning Symptoms

  • Muscle pain.

  • Fever.

  • Breathing problems.

Arsenic Poisoning Symptoms

  • Swollen skin.

  • Skin redness.

  • Vomiting and nausea.

  • Diarrhea.

  • Muscle cramps.

  • Lesions or spots on the skin.

  • Abnormal heart rhythms.

How Is Heavy Metal Poisoning Diagnosed?

Heavy metal poisoning is diagnosed in various ways depending upon the type of metal exposure to a person.

The diagnosis includes

  • Complete blood profile.

  • Blood test for heavy metal poisoning helps to detect the type of metal and amount of exposure caused by the toxic metal.

  • Liver function tests can detect heavy metal toxicity by showing adverse liver function and variations in normal test values.

  • Kidney function tests can detect heavy metal toxicity by showing the level of exposure and impaired renal function.

  • An electrocardiogram or ECG also helps to monitor cardiac function and cardiac output during heavy metal toxicity.

  • X-rays of the chest can show the amount of damage to the lungs after inhalation exposure to heavy metal.

What Is the Treatment for Heavy Metal Poisoning?

Treatment for heavy metal poisoning mainly depends upon the metal ingested by a person and the toxicity levels. Doctors treat a person with chelating agents to eliminate the toxic heavy metals from the body through urine. Gastric lavage or stomach pumping removes toxins from an infected person's body is also advised by a doctor. The doctor also treats kidney failure conditions with hemodialysis. In addition, the patient is provided supportive treatment to treat other symptoms due to heavy metal poisoning.

How Can We Prevent Heavy Metal Poisoning?

People working in metal industries or with heavy metals should wear protective gear such as gloves and masks to avoid exposure. Fish we eat can also contain mercury metal. Therefore one must consume local fish with proper advisory from the local fish authorities. A person should cautiously clean heavy metal spills at home or anywhere around, and local environmental authorities must be informed by the people immediately. People working with heavy metals should carefully dispose of their clothes and protective equipment to avoid further contamination. People should purchase food items carefully because they can also contain metal constituents, especially in baby foods.

What Are the Comorbidities Associated With Heavy Metal Poisoning?

The comorbidities associated with heavy metal poisoning include

  • Autoimmune disorders.

  • Asthma.

  • Arthritis.

  • Autism spectrum disorder.

  • Epilepsy.

  • Attention deficit disorder.

  • Infertility.

  • Insomnia.

  • Hypertension.

  • Liver disease.

  • Kidney disease.

  • Schizophrenia.

  • Multiple sclerosis.

  • Thyroid disorder.

  • Multiple sclerosis.

  • Parkinson.

Which Food Can Help in Heavy Metal Detox From the Body?

The foods that can help in the detoxification of heavy metals from the body are as follows:

  • Garlic.

  • Tomatoes.

  • Green tea.

  • Curry.

  • Lemon water.

  • Probiotics.

  • Wild blueberries.

  • Cilantro.

  • Atlantic dulse.

  • Spirulina.

  • Chlorella.


Heavy metals can prevent the normal functioning of cells or tissues and disrupt their activities by producing life-threatening consequences if not treated on time. Some heavy metals like iron, zinc, and copper are essential for our health but can cause toxicity if consumed in excess amounts. However, the treatment options for heavy metal toxicity usually depend upon the level of exposure and type of metal exposure.

Acute symptoms of metal toxicity can be managed easily, but long-term exposure to these elements can cause chronic toxicity. Therefore, a person having these symptoms must be taken to the nearest healthcare center for immediate treatment, and preventive measures must be taken.

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Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar
Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar

Pulmonology (Asthma Doctors)

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