Arsenic poisoning occurs upon ingestion, inhalation and dermal absorption of arsenic. Arsenic is a heavy metal that exists in 3 metallic forms, alpha or yellow, beta or black and gamma or grey. Arsenic may appear in both organic (arsines) and inorganic form. Elemental arsenic is the least toxic and inorganic forms are much more toxic than the organic. Toxicity occurs due to arsenic's effect on numerous cell enzymes, which affect the metabolism and DNA repair. Arsenic is excreted in urine, but can also accumulate in many body tissues. Arsenic has been used, in medicines as a pigment, as a pesticide and as a weapon of murder, especially in Victorian times.Sources of arsenic poisoning
Arsenic is found in food, water and many household items. Tobacco smoke, laundry detergent, sea food, beer and even drinking water are all well known sources of arsenic poisoning. Health and safety at work have drastically improved during the last couple of decades so that both acute and chronic arsenic poisoning are rare. However, there have been cases of arsenic contamination in water supplies around the world. For example, wate contamination in Bangladesh and West Bengal affected millions of people. This is possibly the worst case of mass poisoning in history. It is estimated that around 75 million people were exposed to arsenic laden water and from this 200,000 to 270,000 deaths from cancer will be seen in future. Other sources of arsenic poisoning include: certain ayurvedic medicines and Chinese herbal medicines, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, food preservatives, ceramic enamels, paints, burning of fossil fuels, fish and seafood and illegal whiskey, commonly referred to as Moonshine.
Symptoms of arsenic poisoning
Symptoms of arsenic poisoning can be extremely strong and yet apparently hard to distinguish. Arsenic poisoning affects various organs and systems in the body, leading to apparently unrelated symptoms and health complaints. The poisoning usually starts with a headache that progresses to a feeling of lightheadedness, accompanied with numbness and tingling in the hands and feet.
Gastro-intestinal symptoms are also present and they manifest as hyper salivation, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, bowel pain, stomach pain and dry or tight throat. The vomit may often appear green, yellow or blood-streaked. Patients will usually be extremely lethargic, feel very exhausted, and complain about tenderness and pressure on the body. Garlic odor is often present in the breath and body tissues of the affected individual while blood results show elevated liver enzymes, accompanied with jaundice.
Treatment of arsenic poisoning
The first step in a successful treatment is to remove the patient from the source of arsenic. Chemical and synthetic methods, for example dimercaprol and dimercaptosuccinic, are now used to treat this poisoning.