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It has been a subject of investigation from fiction to fact and from 'reel' life to 'real' life. From Agatha Christie's novels to films to alleged Napoleon Bonaparte's death, it has been there all the way. Yes, no prizes for guessing that it is the ever infamous arsenic, a poisonous metalloid. On a serious note though, there can be dire consequences of exposure to this toxic metal. Curiously enough, the compounds of this element induce greater damage than the elemental arsenic. The inorganic compounds of arsenic are more hazardous and toxic. For instance, arsenic trioxide is supposedly around 500 times more poisonous than pure arsenic. If you give an adult a dose of arsenic between 70 mg and 200 mg, that is the minimum lethal dose for him or her!

Before we go on to the symptoms of poisoning, let's check out in brief how does arsenic affect our body.

Toxicity of Arsenic

» According to studies done on arsenic, it creates a specific oxidative stress, which disturbs the signal transduction pathways of the nuclear transcriptional factors. It also disrupts the proinflammatory cytokines and ATP production in the body through several mechanisms. Now, this can have a significant impact on the processes linked with cell growth, glucose homeostasis, metabolic syndrome X, obesity, insulin resistance, inflammation, and diabetes mellitus.

» Arsenic enters the human body through ingestion, inhalation, or is absorbed by the skin. Arsenic poisoning mainly occurs due to elevated levels of the element present in drinking water, usually in low concentrations.

» Arsenic poisoning is generally undetectable because it affects different organs of the body, which may seem unrelated. Hence, apart from a thorough physical examination, environmental exposure and personal history need to be considered.

» The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified arsenic as a carcinogen.

» Rice is found to be more susceptible to arsenic poisoning. Arsenic is also found in drinking water in many countries and is the major cause of arsenic poisoning.

Symptoms of Arsenic Poisoning

There are numerous symptoms a person shows on getting poisoned by arsenic. Some of them can even be confused with symptoms of other ailments. Hence, one has to look out for other signs of arsenic poisoning. Poisoning is initiated with a headache and leads to vertigo. There is numbness in the hands and feet and a tingling sensation in the early stages of poisoning.

Stomach-related Problems
A person exposed to arsenic experiences violent pain in the stomach. It is especially felt in the bowel area. A kind of tenderness and pressure develops in that area. In addition to this, diarrhea and other gastrointestinal disturbances are experienced. Liver failure is also one of the symptoms of arsenic poisoning.

Retching
This is a condition where the gastric contents are pushed into the esophagus, but they do not enter the pharynx. It precedes vomiting and is normally caused by a bad smell or choking. But vomiting only happens when the upper esophageal sphincter is open. The matter which is thrown out is greenish or yellowish and might even have streaks of blood.

Throat Trouble
If a person has been poisoned with arsenic accidentally, or otherwise, he/she experiences a feeling of dryness and tightness in the throat. As the throat is affected, there is a difficulty in speech as well, coupled with hoarseness. A garlicky odor is detected in the breath.

Reproductive System Problems
These are the most drastically affected areas. Excruciating and burning pain occurs while passing urine. The urine if passed may be dark in color. Moreover, difficulty in defecation can also be a symptom of the toxicity of arsenic. Abrasion of the anus is also a sign of being poisoned by arsenic.

Other Symptoms
  • Excess saliva production
  • Muscle cramps
  • Convulsions
  • Drowsiness
  • Clammy sweats
  • Red eyes
  • Sunken face
  • Lividity in the limbs
  • Delirium
  • Renal failure
  • Purplish-red skin
  • Dehydration
  • Coma

Long-term Effects
Prolonged exposure to arsenic may often result in specific arsenic-related symptoms.

» Sensory and motor nerve defects arise, and hallucinations occur.
» Liver and kidney function is affected.
» Anemia, hyperpigmentation, cancer of lungs, skin, bladder, kidney and skin lesions have been linked to chronic exposure to arsenic.
» Continuous contact with arsenic may cause hyperkeratosis in which bumps appear on the skin that resemble corns, or warts.
» Congestive heart failure, ventricular arrhythmia, and pulmonary edema also tend to present themselves as symptoms.

If the symptoms are not attended to at the earliest, it can prove fatal. Therefore, if at all you feel suspicious -- even if it seems like a normal gastrointestinal problem, get a medical checkup done immediately. It can be done through a blood, urine, or hair test. There are potentially effective medicines which can treat arsenic poisoning. Eating garlic can also help in tackling this situation, as put across by research. Be alert, and stay safe!

Disclaimer: This Buzzle article is for informative purposes only and does not in any way intend to replace the advice of a medical professional. Visiting your physician is the best way to diagnose and treat any health condition.