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Mercury toxicity occurs when a person is exposed to mercury. Mercury is a naturally occurring metal. Short- or long-term exposure to mercury can cause serious health problems. If you think you have been exposed to mercury, contact your doctor right away.
Mercury has several forms, including:
Metallic mercury—a shiny, silver-white, odorless liquid that becomes a colorless, odorless gas when heated
Methylmercury—a chemical made up of mercury combined with carbon; mainly produced by microscopic organisms in the water and soil
Mercury salts—white powders or crystals formed when mercury combines with elements such as chlorine, sulfur, or oxygen
easily reach the brain and are more harmful than mercury salts.
Mercury toxicity may occur when you are exposed to toxic amounts of mercury due to:
Breathing airborne mercury vapors
Eating contaminated food, especially fish or shellfish—Larger and older fish tend to have the highest levels of mercury.
Drinking water contaminated with mercury (rare)
Practicing religious or folk medicine rituals that include mercury
Metallic mercury can be found in consumer products, such as fluorescent light bulbs, batteries, thermostats, and old thermometers. Mercury, combined with other elements, is also found in some types of dental fillings. Research has not shown that this type of filling is harmful to people. Although thimerosol is no longer used in vaccines in the United States, the mercury-containing compound is still used in some countries. Research has not shown that it is harmful to people.
Anyone can develop mercury toxicity as a result of mercury exposure. Certain people are more likely to be exposed to mercury. The following factors increase your chances of being exposed to mercury. If you have any of these risk factors, tell your doctor:
The chemical industry
Other industries that use mercury
Electric meter repair
Practicing rituals that include mercury
Eating over 6 ounces of white albacore tuna per week
Eating over 12 ounces a week of fish and shellfish that is considered lower in mercury, such as shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish
In addition, pregnant women, their unborn fetuses, and young children are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of mercury exposure.
Widespread Toxicity in Infant
Fetuses and young children are more vulnerable to the effects of mercury poisoning.
Mercury can cause harmful effects before symptoms develop. It is important to contact your doctor right away if you think you have been exposed to mercury, regardless of your symptoms. When symptoms do develop, they may include:
Redness of the extremities, chest, and nose (dusky pink hands and feet)
The most important thing is to stop and mercury exposure. Talk with your doctor about other treatments for you. Treatment options include:
Chelation therapy involves putting a chemical, or
chelating agent, into the bloodstream. The chelating agent combines with mercury to help remove it from the body. Chelating agents may be given by pill or by injection.
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Environ Toxicol Chem.
Oken E, Bellinger DC. Fish consumption, methylmercury and child neurodevelopment.
Curr Opin Pediatr.
ToxFAQs for mercury. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry website. Available at: ...(Click grey area to select URL) Updated October 19, 2011. Accessed April 26, 2013.
What you need to know about mercury in fish and shellfish. Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: ...(Click grey area to select URL) Updated March 29, 2013. Accessed April 26, 2013.
12/10/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us: Vearrier D, Greenberg MI.
Care of patients who are worried about mercury poisoning from dental fillings.
J Am Board Fam Med.
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