Get the Lead Out

In case you haven’t heard yet, my youngest and her husband are having a little boy at the end of the month. I’ve noticed that, as millennials, their generation shares what they already have instead of running out to buy new as my generation – the baby boomers – did. One thing that was shared with them was a 16 year old crib in ace condition.

I thought it was painted white and got nervous about lead in the paint until I did a little digging. Luckily, the anti-lead paint laws came into existence 41 years ago in 1978.

Then I started to wonder what sustained lead exposure could do to someone with Chronic Kidney Disease and turned to one of my favorite sites to find out. According to the National Kidney Foundation at https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/lead-exposure-and-kidney-function,

“Having too much lead in your body can affect all the organs in your body, including the kidneys. When it affects your kidneys, medical experts call it ‘lead-related nephrotoxicity.’  (‘Nephro’ refers to your kidneys, and ‘toxicity’ refers to poison.’) Kidney damage from lead exposure is very uncommon in the United States.  In fact, most experts believe that kidney damage from lead is rare nowadays, especially in the United States and Europe.

It’s believed that lead exposure causes less than 1% of all cases of kidney failure.  It is usually related to jobs where workers are exposed to very high levels of lead, such as stained glass artists, metal smelters, and people who work in battery factories or remodel old homes. The low levels of lead found in drinking water, house paint, dirt, dust, or toys rarely causes kidney damage.

But if it does happen, it is usually only after many years of lead exposure (5 to 30 years).  Also, it is more likely to affect people who are already at risk for kidney disease, or those who already have kidney disease. In children, however, even mild exposure over many years can lead to health effects later in life, including kidney damage.”

Let’s say (Heaven forbid!) that you were among the “less than 1% of all cases of kidney failure” caused by lead exposure. How would you even know you had lead poisoning? The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at  https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/lead/health.html had an answer ready for us.

“Lead poisoning can happen if a person is exposed to very high levels of lead over a short period of time. When this happens, a person may feel:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipated
  • Tired
  • Headachy
  • Irritable
  • Loss of appetite
  • Memory loss
  • Pain or tingling in the hands and/or feet
  • Weak

Because these symptoms may occur slowly or may be caused by other things, lead poisoning can be easily overlooked. Exposure to high levels of lead may cause anemia, weakness, and kidney and brain damage. Very high lead exposure can cause death.

Lead can cross the placental barrier, which means pregnant women who are exposed to lead also expose their unborn child. Lead can damage a developing baby’s nervous system. Even low-level lead exposures in developing babies have been found to affect behavior and intelligence. Lead exposure can cause miscarriage, stillbirths, and infertility (in both men and women).

Generally, lead affects children more than it does adults. Children tend to show signs of severe lead toxicity at lower levels than adults. Lead poisoning has occurred in children whose parent(s) accidentally brought home lead dust on their clothing. Neurological effects and mental retardation have also occurred in children whose parent(s) may have job-related lead exposure.…”

Did you catch the mention of kidney disease? Now what? How is lead poisoning treated? Let’s see what another favorite site of mine, The Mayo Clinic at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lead-poisoning/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20354723   has to say:

“The first step in treating lead poisoning is to remove the source of the contamination. If you can’t remove lead from your environment, you might be able to reduce the likelihood that it will cause problems. For instance, sometimes it’s better to seal in rather than remove old lead paint. Your local health department can recommend ways to identify and reduce lead in your home and community. For children and adults with relatively low lead levels, simply avoiding exposure to lead might be enough to reduce blood lead levels.

Treating higher levels For more-severe cases, your doctor might recommend:

  • Chelation therapy. In this treatment, a medication given by mouth binds with the lead so that it’s excreted in urine. Chelation therapy might be recommended for children with a blood level of 45 mcg/dL or greater and adults with high blood levels of lead or symptoms of lead poisoning.
  • EDTA chelation therapy. Doctors treat adults with lead levels greater than 45 mcg/dL of blood and children who can’t tolerate the drug used in conventional chelation therapy most commonly with a chemical called calcium disodium ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA). EDTA is given by injection.”

Is that safe for your kidneys? Uh-oh, according to WebMD at https://www.webmd.com/balance/guide/what-is-chelation-therapy, it may not be.

“When chelation therapy is used the right way and for the right reason, it can be safe. The most common side effect is burning in the area where you get the IV. You might also experience fever, headache, and nausea or vomiting. Chelating drugs can bind to and remove some metals your body needs, like calcium, copper, and zinc. This can lead to a deficiency in these important substances. Some people who’ve had chelation therapy also have low calcium levels in the blood and kidney damage.”

It looks like this is another case when you’ll have to present the information to your nephrologist and see what he or she advises in your particular case. If it’s a primary care doctor who is treating you for lead poisoning, be certain to tell him or her that you CKD.

Until next week,

Keep living your life!