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Arsenic Poisoning

Arsenic can penetrate into the body through the skin or the lungs but Arsenic mainly enters via drinking water or food that has been eaten. Most Arsenic compounds are soluble in water to some extent and thus are easily transported in the blood stream and assimilated by the body. The water solubility also helps remove some of the Arsenic via the urine and the excrement. Unfortunately, a significant portion of the ingested Arsenic is absorbed by various bodily tissues and is retained for an extended period.

The effects of poisoning with Arsenic may be apparent in short time or only after a prolonged exposure. The ultimate physiological damage of poisoning with Arsenic depends mainly on:
  • The TOTAL AMOUNT of Arsenic incorporated into the body. (“DOSE”)
  • The RATE Arsenic is incorporated into the body.
  • The VENUE of intake, i.e. ingestion with food or drinks, breathing or skin contact.
  • The RATE OF DISCHARGE of arsenic via the urine or excretions.
  • The MEDICAL CONDITION of the person exposed.


    Symptoms of Arsenic Poisoning

    SMALL amounts of Arsenic are REQUIRED for normal operation of the body. However, larger doses can be fatal. An ACUTE FATAL DOSE of Arsenic is in the range of 2-20mg/kg body weight/day. Thus, a relatively healthy person who weight 160lbs, about 72.6kg, may die if he ingests between 0.145gm and 1.45gm Arsenic in the form of Arsenic Trioxide, As2O3. i.e. 0.192gm to 1.92gm of Arsenic Trioxide. Smaller amounts may be fatal if unhealthy people, elderly or children are exposed.

    Some of the Arsenic that enters the body is excreted out of the body rather rapidly but a fraction of it accumulates in various organs, including even the hair and the nails. The fraction of Arsenic that is retained in the body depends on the specific Arsenic compound that entered, the venue that it entered through, i.e. ingestion or inhalation, the food eaten with the Arsenic compound, etc. The Arsenic that is retained in the body will continue to be eliminated but at a slower rate. However, as long as the Arsenic is in the body, it will continue to cause physiological damage.

    Exposure to small doses of Arsenic compounds over a long period of time can result in lung, skin or liver cancer, or cancer of the lymphatic system. Damage to organs, such as the esophagus, can cause speaking difficulties. Exposure to small doses of Arsenic may also cause confusion and disorientation.

    Symptoms of exposure to small amounts of Arsenic vary and may include fatigue and sleeplessness increased production of saliva and sweat and hallucinations. As the exposure increases, one may start having problems with his stomach and urinary track. This may include difficulties in urination associated with pain as well as nausea and vomiting, pain in the abdomen, mainly in the bowel area including lose bowel movement and intestinal disorders. Liver breakdown always happens as a consequence of chronic arsenic poisoning. Bad odor from the stomach is accompanied by green or yellow vomit, sometimes with blood, occurs as the Arsenic exposure increases.


    Treatments for Arsenic Poisoning

    The probability of successful removal of arsenic from the body and minimizing its harmful effects is greatly increased if the intervention is done as short a time as possible after the exposure. The reason is that arsenic compounds begin destroying the blood cells immediately after absorbed in the blood and begin reacting in the kidneys and urinary track shortly thereafter. The most effective methods of intervention include:

  • Removal of a person from the exposure area when it comes to arsine gas and controlling the food intake in the case of ingestion.
  • Hemodialysis to remove Arsenic from the bloodstream before it binds into tissues.
  • Blood transfusion, if done shortly after the exposure.
  • Bowel irrigation to remove arsenic which was not assimilated yet in the body.

    Some success was observed by using chelating agents which react with the Arsenic and accelerate its removal from the body. The most important chelating agents are Dimercaprol, (Also known as BAL), Succimer, (DMSA), and Dimerval, (DMPS). All the chelation agents are toxic and should be used only under qualified medical supervision.

    The information above is courtesy of ChemSee.com