Signs, symptoms, and sources of arsenic poisoning
12/05/2018 // Frances Bloomfield // Views

Arsenic is a naturally-occurring, semi-metallic chemical found all over the world. Though common in the Earth's crust, arsenic can also be present in food and water sources as a contaminant. Typically odorless and flavorless, these attributes make it difficult to identify arsenic, especially in water. The absorption, ingestion, or inhalation of dangerous levels of arsenic is called “arsenicosis” or arsenic poisoning.

Signs and symptoms of arsenic poisoning

When ingested orally, the first symptoms of arsenic poisoning often begin to manifest within thirty minutes. These include: confusion, diarrhea, drowsiness, and headaches. If arsenic has been inhaled or ingested in a smaller amount, the symptoms may take longer to manifest.

Cases of acute or immediate arsenic poisoning will usually display the following symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Cardiac problems
  • Dehydration
  • Delirium
  • Diarrhea
  • Hemolysis (red blood cell destruction)
  • Shock
  • Vertigo
  • Vomiting

For more severe cases of arsenic poisoning, these are the observable symptoms:

  • Blood in the urine
  • Convulsions
  • Excess saliva production
  • Excessive sweating
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Hair loss
  • Metallic taste in the mouth
  • Muscle cramps

Long-term exposure to arsenic at lower-than-toxic levels will usually cause skin changes, such as skin lesions, hyperkeratosis (wart-like skin bumps on the palms and feet), and skin darkening or discoloration. Kidney and liver failure, as well as motor nerve and sensory defects can also develop after a minimum exposure of five years. Moreover, diseases like diabetes, pulmonary disease, cardiovascular disease, and several types of cancer have all been linked to long-term arsenic exposure. Arsenic is recognized to be fatal when consumed in large amounts.

Sources of arsenic

  • Groundwater -- Countries like China, India, Bangladesh, Argentina, Mexico, and the United States of America all have high levels of arsenic present in groundwater. The causes of these contaminated water sources range from industrial and mining waste seeping into underground reservoirs to normal arsenic leaching out of the ground.
  • Food -- Varying levels of arsenic have been reported in rice, beef, pork, poultry, cereal, milk, and other dairy products. Arsenic is usually found in its less toxic organic form in seafood like fish and shellfish. (Related: Infants fed rice have twice as high urinary arsenic concentrations than infants fed no rice.)
  • Industrial work -- Inorganic arsenic and its compounds are used in certain lines of work. Industrially, arsenic is often used as an alloying agent or as a part of the hide tanning process. People working in glass production, smelting, wood treatment, mining, and pesticide production are at high risk of arsenic exposure.
  • Tobacco -- Arsenic in the soil can be absorbed by tobacco plants, which in turn are inhaled by people who smoke tobacco.

According to Medical News Today, blood, hair, urine, and fingernail samples are used to measure arsenic levels. Although fingernail and hair samples can provide an accurate picture of arsenic exposure levels, they cannot indicate the severity these effects may have on the patient's health. Electrocardiograms, nerve conduction tests, and toxin tests may also be conducted in cases of suspected arsenic exposure, regardless of severity.

Patient history will also be taken into consideration. As was mentioned, numerous occupations place one at higher risk of arsenic exposure. Furthermore, people who've been exposed to toxic levels of arsenic may have breath and urine that smell distinctly of garlic.

Visit to read up on arsenic and other toxic heavy metals.

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