Mercury toxicity occurs when a person is exposed to mercury. Mercury is a naturally occurring metal. Short- or long-term exposure to mercury can cause serious health problems. If you think you have been exposed to mercury, contact your doctor right away.
Mercury has several forms, including:
Metallic mercury and methylmercury easily reach the brain and are more harmful than mercury salts.
Mercury toxicity may occur when you are exposed to toxic amounts of mercury due to:
Metallic mercury can be found in consumer products, such as fluorescent light bulbs, batteries, thermostats, and old thermometers. Mercury, combined with other elements, is also found in some types of dental fillings. Research has not shown that this type of filling is harmful to people. Although thimerosol is no longer used in vaccines in the United States, the mercury containing compound is still used in some countries. Research has not shown that it is harmful to people.
Anyone can develop mercury toxicity as a result of mercury exposure. Certain people are more likely to be exposed to mercury. The following factors increase your chances of being exposed to mercury. If you have any of these risk factors, tell your doctor:
In addition, pregnant women, their unborn fetuses, and young children are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of mercury exposure.
Mercury can cause harmful effects before symptoms develop. It is important to contact your doctor right away if you think you have been exposed to mercury, regardless of your symptoms. When symptoms do develop, they may include:
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Tests may include the following:
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include:
Chelation therapy involves putting a chemical, or chelating agent, into the bloodstream. The chelating agent combines with mercury to help remove it from the body. Chelating agents may be given by pill or by injection.
To help reduce your chances of getting mercury toxicity, take the following steps:
If you spill a small amount of metallic mercury:
Many factors can affect the reliability of lab tests. A test may suggest an illness that actually does not exist. This called a false positive. A test may also miss an illness that actually does exist. This is called a false negative.
A doctor will consider the results from many tests and your symptoms before making a diagnosis. It is important to discuss these results with your doctor before making any conclusions.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
US Environmental Protection Agency
US Food and Drug Administration
Public Health Agency of Canada
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