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What is Arsenic Poisoning?

Blood and urine samples are collected to detect arsenic poisoning.
Mild headaches are often an early sign of arsenic poisoning.
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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 July 2014
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Arsenic poisoning is accidental or intentional exposure to arsenic in some form. In many cases, the poisoning takes place by either handling products containing high doses of arsenic without proper protection or ingesting foods or liquids containing unhealthy doses of arsenic. The range of symptoms with arsenic poisoning can range from mild headaches to death, depending on the extent of the exposure to the toxic chemical.

While many people tend to think in terms of arsenic poisoning taking place due to someone intentionally mixing the product into food or drink, it is possible to experience the poisoning by contact with substances that have not been doctored by anyone. For example, some types of lumber products once used arsenic as a preservative. Anyone sawing lumber treated in this manner could conceivably be poisoned over time due to exposure to airborne fragments and the sawdust that results of the sawing activity. In like manner, untreated water sources may contain amounts of arsenic that would build up in the system over time and begin to cause distress.

In the early stages, arsenic poisoning often begins with a feeling of general lethargy accompanied by mild headaches. As time goes on, the headaches and lack of energy become more pronounced. Abdominal pains may also begin to develop. If left untreated, the presence of arsenic in the system will begin to interfere with the body’s natural function and lead to organ failure and finally death.

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Fortunately, there are a number of tests that can detect the presence of arsenic in the body. Various tests call for samples of hair, blood, fingernails, and urine. Urine tests can detect the presence of exposure to arsenic over the last couple of days, while hair and fingernail testing can be used to create an accurate record of the accumulation of arsenic in the body for as much as the past twelve months. Depending on the level of arsenic present, various medications can be administered to begin eliminating the chemical from the body and minimize the potential for long-term health problems related to the poisoning.

Avoiding arsenic poisoning normally means wearing protective gloves and clothing when handling any products containing arsenic. Working with older lumber calls for wearing a face mask in order to minimize the possible chances of contamination. It is also a good idea to not drink water from sources that are suspect.

Should an individual suspect he or she has developed arsenic poisoning for any reason, it is imperative to seek medical attention immediately. The testing process can return results quickly, making it possible to begin treatment before any additional damage can be done to the body or any of its systems.

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