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  • Updated 05.30.2021
  • Released 10.06.1999
  • Expires For CME 05.30.2024

Lead neuropathy

Introduction

Overview

The author reviews the clinical and laboratory manifestations of lead intoxication. This condition is extremely rare since the elimination of lead paints, and although commonly tested for in cases of motor neuron disease, has never been causally linked to that condition. Testing for lead is only needed in those who have potential exposure.

Key points

• Lead intoxication is extremely rare since the elimination of lead paints.

• Although commonly tested for in cases of motor neuron disease, it has never been causally linked to that condition.

• Testing for lead is only needed in those who have potential exposure.

Historical note and terminology

Exposure to lead has historically been a problem in many areas of everyday life. This includes the use of lead solder for metal food containers and drinking water pipes, the addition of tetraethyl lead to gasoline, and the addition of lead oxide to house paints, ceramic tableware, and toys (15). Although the most widely known sources of lead in the environment were leaded gasoline and lead paint, studies of the polar ice cap and peat bogs indicate that industrial emissions and coal burning have caused significant environmental contamination (37). The elimination of lead-based paints and other environmental sources of contamination have dramatically reduced the frequency of lead intoxication. However, exposure may still occur, especially in the industrial setting (battery manufacturing, smelting plants, demolition, tile factories, and automobile radiator repair) (18; 19). Paint ingestion is still a source of lead toxicity (15; 41) as is drinking "moonshine" whiskey (42). Reports have also implicated working in indoor gun firing ranges (22) and burning batteries for heat. A case of lead intoxication leading to quadriplegia was felt to be related to the use of lead-contaminated opium (04).

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