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Mercury is one of the most poisonous, naturally-occurring substances on earth. It is so harmful that even a single atom of mercury in the body can do loads of harm. The World Health Organization claims that there is no safe level of mercury in the body. Directly or indirectly, the condition can cause a number of chronic health problems.

Causes

Ingesting infected fish is one of the most common causes in humans, as well as animals. If the poisoning occurs by eating tuna, swordfish, etc., it poses a greater risk as compared to smaller fish species. Studies have shown that the risk of mercury poisoning from eating sushi made from fish such as, shark, swordfish, blue fin tuna, and the like, is very high. Therefore, one should avoid these high-end fish and stick to two helpings of fish or shellfish per week. Exposure to mercury is also possible through breathing air contaminated with mercury vapors, eating foods that contain mercury residues, mercury amalgam dental restorations, and bio-accumulation of mercury in soil, water, and air. Stationary combustion of coal also leads to mercury saturation in atmosphere. Gold production, nonferrous metal production, waste disposal, cement production, caustic soda, pig iron, steel, mercury production, etc., all add to mercury concentration in water, soil, and air. Even hair-bleaching products are known to cause this form of poisoning.

Symptoms

There are a number of symptoms that affect many organs in the body. The following table will cover a list of the chronic symptoms affecting various areas of the body.

Area AffectedSymptoms
Heart
  • Abnormal EKG
  • Angina
  • Anemia
  • Arteriosclerosis
  • Endocarditis
  • Heart attack
  • Heart murmur
  • High blood pressure
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Low blood pressure
  • Partial heart block
  • Pressure in chest
  • Tachycardia
  • Unexplained chest pains and unexplained elevated cholesterol levels
  • Unexplained elevated serum triglyceride levels
Skin
  • Acne
  • Dermatitis
  • Excessive itching
  • Red flushes on skin
  • Rough skin
  • Unexplained rashes
Nervous System Disorders
  • Belle's palsy
  • Chronic headaches
  • Convulsions
  • Difficulty walking
  • Dim vision
  • Dizziness
  • Epilepsy
  • Facial twitches
  • Muscle coordination failure
  • Hearing difficulty
  • Insomnia
  • Mental disability
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Muscle paralysis
  • Muscle twitches
  • Nervous tension
  • Numbness of arms and legs
  • Ringing in ears
  • Speech disorders
  • Tingling in fingers, toes, lips, or nose
  • Tremors in hands, feet, lips
  • Unexplained leg jerks
Digestive System
  • Colitis
  • Constipation
  • Crohn's disease
  • Diarrhea
  • Digestive problems
  • Diverticulitis
  • Frequent bloating
  • Frequent heartburn
  • Graves' disease
  • Indigestion
  • Loss of appetite
  • Stomach cramps
  • Ulcers
Immune System
  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Cancer
  • Candida albicans
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Environmental illness
  • Epstein-Barr virus
  • Hodgkin's disease
  • Immune deficiency disease
  • Leukemia
  • Infectious mononucleosis
  • Rhinitis
  • Sinus infections
  • Susceptible to flu, colds, etc.
  • Swollen glands
Blood Disease
  • False positive for venereal disease
  • Mononucleosis
Endocrine System
  • Arthritis
  • Cervical erosion
  • Chronic low body temperature
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Decreased sexual activity
  • Diabetes
  • Edema
  • Frequent urination (especially at night)
  • Increased sweating
  • Kidney stones
  • Leg cramps
  • menstruation becomes painful
  • Osteoporosis
  • Obesity
  • Joint pain
  • Slow healing
  • Thyroid dysfunction
  • Tipped uterus
  • Unexplained weight loss
Dental Problems
  • Bad breath
  • Bleeding gums
  • Bone loss around teeth
  • Burning sensation in mouth
  • Enlarged salivary glands
  • Increased flow of saliva
  • Leukoplakia
  • Loss of teeth
  • Metallic taste in mouth
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Periodontal (gum) disease
  • Strep throat with persistent cough
  • Stomatitis
  • Swollen tongue
Psychological & Behavioral Effects
  • Anxiety
  • Apathy
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Despondency
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Emotional Instability
  • Fits of anger
  • Forgetfulness
  • Hallucinations
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Irritability
  • Lack of self-control
  • Lowered intelligence
  • Manic Depression
  • Nervousness
  • Nightmares
  • Psychological disturbances
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Sudden anger
  • Suicidal tendencies
  • Tension
Other Symptoms
  • Chronic eye inflammation
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Frequent headaches
  • Hearing problems
  • Insomnia
  • Lack of energy
  • Leg cramps
  • Lethargy
  • Motion sickness
  • Oversleeping
  • Ringing in ears
  • Slow healing
  • Sweat excessively or not at all
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Tired feeling after waking up in the morning
  • Trouble making decisions
  • Urinate frequently during the day

Treatment

Treatment for the condition includes identification of the source of poisoning. After identification of the source, one needs to begin decontamination of the clothes, skin, and eyes as needed. In case of medical therapy, the patient is put on immediate chelation therapy. The chelation therapy is used in case of acute inorganic mercury poisoning. The FDA approved chelating agent that can also be used for children is Dimercaptosuccinic acid (DMSA). Other chelation agents include, 2,3-dimercapto-1-propanesulfonic acid (DMPS), D-penicillamine (DPCN), or dimercaprol (BAL). One should keep in mind that chelation therapy may prove to be fatal, like EDTA used for treatment of mercury poising led to the death of a 5-year-old autistic boy in August 2005.

Prognosis shows this condition is partially or fully reversible. Treatment is possible if the source of poisoning is totally removed. However, an extensive mercury exposure can lead to irreversible damage especially in fetus, infants, children, and pregnant women.

Disclaimer: This Buzzle article is meant for educating the reader only and should not be considered as an alternative to an expert medical advice.