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Lead Poisoning: Signs and Symptoms

Lead Poisoning in Children

Signs of lead poisoning are not always easy to see. Children can be poisoned by lead and may not look or act sick. Many children who are lead-poisoned look and act healthy. Sometimes the vague symptoms may be mistaken for other illnesses such as upset stomach or flu. Because of this, lead poisoning may go unrecognized.

Your health care provider will ask you some questions to see if your child is at risk for lead poisoning. The only way to know for sure if your child has been exposed to lead is to have their blood tested. Blood tests are used to find out how much lead is in a child's blood. The test is simple. Your health care provider takes blood from your child and a lab will test the blood.

Possible signs and symptoms in children:

  • Tiredness or loss of energy
  • Hyperactivity
  • Irritability or crankiness
  • Reduced attention span
  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Constipation
  • Aches or pains in stomach

How can lead poisoning affect my child?

Children can get lead in their bodies by swallowing or breathing in dust that contains lead. Lead is a poison that affects every organ and system in the body. There is not function or need for lead. Very high levels of lead exposure can cause coma, seizures and death. Even a little lead can make children slower learners. Other health effects include:

  • Brain damage and lower intelligence
  • Behavior and learning problems
  • Hyperactivity
  • Impaired speech and language
  • Slowed growth
  • Kidney and liver damage
  • Hearing damage

The effects of lead on a child can be permanent and irreversible.


Lead Poisoning in Adults

People with high levels of lead in their bodies often do not seem sick. The symptoms that occur are very general and can happen for many reasons. Over-exposure to lead can cause serious damage even if the person has no symptoms. 

A blood lead test is the only way to find out if an adult has lead poisoning. Lead is a powerful poison that stays in your body a long time. It can build up in your body to dangerous levels even if you are exposed only to small amounts of lead over a long period. An elevated blood lead level shows that lead is building up in your body faster than it can be eliminated.

Possible signs and symptoms in adults:

  • Tiredness or weakness
  • Irritability
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Headache
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Aches or pains in stomach
  • Loss of appetite
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Weight loss

How does lead affect adults?

  • Impotency
  • Brain and nervous system damage
  • High blood pressure
  • Digestive problems
  • Kidney problems
  • Anemia
  • Reproductive system problems
  • Hearing, vision and muscle coordination problems