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Is there a cure for mercury poisoning?

Carmen F. Alfonso, DO
Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation
Mercury poisoning (also known as hydrargyria or mercurialism) is a disease caused by exposure to mercury or its compounds. Mercury (chemical symbol Hg) is a heavy metal that occurs in several forms, all of which can produce toxic effects in high enough doses. Mercury poisoning can result in several diseases, including acrodnia (pink disease), Hunter-Russell Syndrome, and Minamata disease.

Symptoms typically include sensory impairment (vision, hearing, speech), disturbed sensation and a lack of coordination. The type and degree of symptoms exhibited depend upon the individual toxin, the dose, and the method and duration of exposure.

The consumption of fish is by far the most significant source of ingestion-related mercury exposure in humans and animals, although plants and livestock also contain mercury due to bioaccumulation of mercury from soil, water and atmosphere, and due to biomagnification by ingesting other mercury-containing organisms. Exposure to mercury can occur from breathing contaminated air; from eating foods containing mercury residues from processing, such as can occur with high-fructose corn syrup.

The drug NAP (n-acetyl penicillamine) has been used to treat mercury poisoning with limited success.

Diagnosis
Diagnosis of elemental or inorganic mercury poisoning involves determining the history of exposure, physical findings, and an elevated body burden of mercury. Diagnosis of organic mercury poisoning differs in that whole blood or hair analysis is more reliable than urinary mercury levels.

Prevention
Mercury poisoning can be prevented (or minimized) by eliminating or reducing exposure to mercury and mercury compounds.

Treatment
Identifying and removing the source of the mercury is crucial. Decontamination requires removal of clothes, washing skin with soap and water, and flushing the eyes with saline solution as needed. Inorganic ingestion such as mercuric chloride should be approached as the ingestion of any other serious caustic. Immediate chelation therapy is the standard of care for a patient showing symptoms of severe mercury poisoning or the laboratory evidence of a large total mercury load.

At this time, there is no specific cure for mercury poisoning. However, the symptoms of mercury poisoning can be treated, and there are measures that can be taken to try to remove mercury from a person's body. If the damage to the body is not profound and permanent, the symptoms of mercury poisoning usually disappear within 90 days after exposure ends.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.