Neurotoxicity of Heavy Metals

Nearly all organ systems are affected in heavy metal toxicity, most commonly the nervous, gastrointestinal, hematopoietic, renal, and cardiovascular systems. To a lesser extent, lead toxicity involves the musculoskeletal and reproductive systems. The organ systems affected and the severity of the toxicity vary with the particular heavy metal involved, the age of the individual, and the level of exposure (11).

Heavy metals bind to sulfhydryl groups in proteins, resulting in alterations of enzymatic activity; however, specific metals also have unique mechanisms of toxicity that may explain the variety of presentations (11).

Encephalopathy is one of the leading causes of mortality in patients with heavy metal poisoning and is especially common in cases of lead poisoning. Neuropathies are also common, often presenting a challenge to diagnose and necessitating extended diagnostic studies (12).

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