Chelation therapy uses special medicines called agents to remove heavy metals from the body. The agents bind to the heavy metals in the blood. Once they bind, they can leave the body in urine or stool. Examples of heavy metals are:
Reasons for Procedure
Chelation therapy is done to treat metal toxicity. This is when exposure to metal causes problems with how the body works. It can be most harmful to organs like the brain, kidney, and liver.
Metal toxicity may be caused by:
- Metals that enter through the mouth, such as iron pills or eating paint chips or dirt with lead
- Water that has high levels of lead, mercury, or arsenic
- Food that may contain things like pesticides or mercury
- Air that contains cigarette smoke, paint fumes, pesticide sprays, or gasoline fumes
- Certain jobs, such as foundry, printing, mining, or petroleum work
Heavy metals can also build up from certain some health problems such as:
- Iron buildup from thalassemia, myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), or sickle cell disease
- Copper buildup from Wilson disease
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Problems are rare, but all procedures have some risk. The doctor will go over some problems that could happen, such as:
- Allergic reaction
- Irregular heartbeat
- Vision problems
- Kidney failure
- Organ damage
Things that may raise the risk of problems are:
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
The care team will meet with you to talk about:
- Any allergies you may have
- Current medicines, herbs, and supplements that you take and whether you need to stop taking them before therapy
- Tests that will need to be done, such as blood or urine test to monitor the levels of heavy metal in the body
Description of the Procedure
The agent and method that is used depends on what metal is causing the problem. Some agents are taken by mouth. Others are given by injection or through an IV.
How Long Will It Take?
The amount of time it takes depends on the type of metal poisoning and the treatment.
IV or injection chelation therapy may be repeated over a period of weeks or months. Some IV drugs will need to be given over a period of hours during each visit.
Will It Hurt?
Discomfort is common after an injection or IV insertion. Medicine and home care can help.
At the Care Center
Right after the procedure, the staff will monitor you for side effects, such as a headache or rash.
Some dietary changes may be advised to help remove the metal from the body. It will also be important to avoid further exposure.
Call Your Doctor
Call the doctor if you are not getting better or you have:
- Signs of infection, such as fever and chills
- Lightheadedness or fainting
- Lasting nausea or vomiting
- Pain, burning, or other problems urinating
- Vision problems
- Irregular heartbeats
- Yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes
- Signs of an allergic reaction, such as itching, hives, or a rash
- Problems with thinking
- Symptoms that get worse
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Occupational Safety and Health Administration
Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
Public Health Agency of Canada
Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). What Do Parents Need to Know to Protect Their Children? CDC 2016 Jun 6.
Chelation therapy. Iron Disorders Institute website. Available at: http://www.irondisorders.org/chelation-therapy. Accessed October 20, 2020.
Chelation: Therapy or “therapy”? National Capital Poison Center website. Available at: http://www.poison.org/articles/2011-mar/chelation-therapy. Accessed October 20, 2020.
Heavy metal poisoning. NORD—National Organization for Rare Disorders website. Available at: https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/heavy-metal-poisoning. Accessed October 20, 2020.
Lead toxicity—emergency management. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/management/lead-toxicity-emergency-management-11. Accessed October 20, 2020.
Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Daniel A. Ostrovsky, MD Last Updated: 10/20/2020