4. Lead Poisoning Symptoms

A - Anemia
B - Basophilic stippling
C - Colicky
D - Diarrhea
E - Encephalopathy
F - Foot drop
G - Gum (lead line)

Lead by example by singing ABCDEFG.

How does anemia occur when a patient has lead poisoning? Hemolysis is the result of a patient with lead poisoning, which is the rupture of red blood cells. The red blood cells barely surviving leads to anemia, which is the body lacking red blood cells.

Basophilic stippling indicates that lead poisoning caused injury to the bone marrow, which you can see when a patient has anemia. (Now you can understand that A and B go together!) It is a blood smear of erythrocytes displaying small dots.

So what does "colicky" mean? It seems like a stupid question but it really isn't. It is severe abdominal pain that is primarily seen in infants. We could just say abdominal pain, but we need a word for the letter C to fit in our ABCDEFG mnemonic! It shouldn’t be a surprise to you to also associate diarrhea with lead poisoning since we’re seeing gastrointestinal symptoms already.

This is so important to watch out for because the damage from lead poisoning is irreversible to the brain once neurological symptoms occurs. Encephalopathy is a disease that damages your brain. It sounds like a fancy word, but if you remember that lead poisoning causes brain damage, then you can associate lead poisoning and encephalopathy together.

Lead poisoning can lead to peripheral manifestations (foot drop). Remember that the brain is damaged!

The lead line seen in patient’s gums is known as the Burton line, which is a blue-purplish or blue-black line at the base of the gum. Once lead is removed from the body, the Burton line will disappear over time.

Fun fact! The technical term for lead poisoning is plumbism.

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