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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 is much 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:
Arsenic toxicity may occur when a person is exposed to toxic amounts of arsenic due to:
The Lungs
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Arsenic can be inhaled into the lungs.
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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:
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 acute arsenic exposure generally occur within 30-60 minutes after ingestion. These may include:
Symptoms of chronic arsenic exposure include:
In addition, people exposed to arsenic may be at a greater risk of developing heart disease.

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. 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.
Tests may include:

Treatment

There is no effective treatment for arsenic toxicity. There is increasing evidence that chelation therapy may benefit some people who were poisoned with arsenic. 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 control your symptoms. Treatment may include IV hydration, for example.

Prevention

To help reduce your chances of getting arsenic toxicity, take the following steps:

RESOURCES

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Centers 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. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry website. Available at: http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/substances/toxsubstance.asp?toxid=3. Updated March 3, 2011. Accessed February 10, 2014.

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 February 10, 2014.

Acute arsenic poisoning. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated December 4, 2012. Accessed February 10, 2014.

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.

Chronic arsenic poisoning. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated November 30, 2012. Accessed February 10, 2014.

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 February 10, 2014.

ToxFAQs for arsenic. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry website. Available at: http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/tfacts2.pdf. Updated October 26, 2011. Accessed February 10, 2014.

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