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What Is Plumbism?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 29 October 2014
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Plumbism is another word for lead poisoning and it may occur in adults and children. Children are more likely victims, because small amounts of lead can easily reach toxic levels in the body, but adults can suffer from this type of poisoning too. Symptoms may be varied based on amount of lead present in the blood.

Unless known ingestion of lead or exposure to lead has occurred, symptoms may not automatically indicate plumbism and they might take a long time to progress, silently damaging the body. Very young children who get the more severe aspects of this illness might be prone to some mistaken diagnostics. In particular, the way symptoms may occur quickly in young children and the type of symptoms that occur are often mistaken for meningitis. Such symptoms include extreme nausea/vomiting, reduction in cognitive ability, possible seizures, inability to walk in a straight line and others. These look like problems with the brain, which in fact they are because brain swelling has often occurred due to exposure to lead.

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Kids that are slightly older may have similar symptoms when they get plumbism, but they may be more gradual. Seizures aren’t that uncommon though, and children could have a marked difference in cognitive ability and begin to appear as though they are retarded. Sometimes severe behavior changes occur, or a child with an ignored and extended case of plumbism might suddenly be flunking school. In either group, anemia is often present which may be one method of diagnosis, and in older kids, this could translate to less immunity and more frequent contraction of illnesses. Anemia may also cause fatigue or exhaustion and make skin look a little pale.

Adults with lead poisoning rarely have swelling of the brain but they may still have significant stomach upset or problems with the digestive tract and changes in mood or mental status. Headaches are fairly common too. Some people note a bitter taste in their mouth and others call it a metallic taste.

There is treatment for plumbism once it has been diagnosed, and it may reverse damage and carry away this disease, unless lead levels are extremely high. Treatment is through a process called chelation, where a chemical is induced into the body that binds to the lead molecules and removes them. Some people need more aggressive treatment and might require several chemicals to help remove lead. Many times most symptoms of lead poisoning are removed with treatment, but again sometimes damage that occurs from the brain swelling is permanent.

The most important thing to remember about plumbism is that it is caused by exposure to an environmental hazard, lead, and that often this illness is preventable given appropriate precautions. These include not living in homes that were manufactured before the 1970s, unless lead removal has been performed. At the very least not living in homes that have any type of chipping or deteriorating paint or water from lead pipes is advised.

When it’s not possible to move to a home that would be lead free, people should have their children or selves periodically tested to make sure plumbism is not shown. Lead has also been found in a number of products like makeup, children’s toys, and older furniture. Researching companies and their standards in complying with safety laws can help people determine which products to use that are likely to be safer.

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