Chelation therapy uses special medication to remove heavy metals from the body. The medications, called 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 include:
Chelation therapy is used as a treatment for metal toxicity. Once metals are taken into the body they can collect in the body tissue and be difficult to pass out of the body. The excess metals in organs can cause damage and limit function. Metals can be most harmful to organs like the brain, kidney, and liver.
Heavy metals can build up in the body quickly or over a long period of time. It may be caused by:
Heavy metals can also build up from certain medical conditions such as:
Some have suggested other uses for chelation therapy. However, the only approved and research supported use is for treatment of metal toxicity.
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Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Risks may vary depending on the type of chelation therapy being used. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
Before your procedure, talk to your doctor about ways to manage factors that may increase your risk of complications such as:
Your doctor will monitor the levels of the heavy metal in your blood with regular blood tests. Your doctor may also do:
The agent and method that is needed will depend on what metal is causing the problem. Some agents are taken by mouth. Other are given by injection or through an IV. You may need to be watched in a clinical setting after the treatment to make sure you do not have severe side effects.
The amount of time for treatment will depend on the type of metal poisoning, and type of treatment.
Chelation therapy by injection or IV may need frequent outpatient visits over a period of weeks or months. Some IV drugs will need to be given over a period of hours during each visit.
If you need an injection or IV, there may be some discomfort when the needle is inserted.
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 your body. It will also be important to avoid further exposure.
Call your doctor if any of these occur:
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
American Lead Poisoning Help Association, Inc.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration
Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
Public Health Agency of Canada
Chelation: Therapy or “therapy”? National Capital Poison Center website. Available at: http://www.poison.org/articles/2011-mar/chelation-therapy. Accessed March 14, 2018.
Chelation therapy. Iron Disorders Institute website. Available at: http://www.irondisorders.org/chelation-therapy. Updated July 17, 2009. Accessed March 14, 2018.
Flora SJ, Pachauri V. Chelation in metal intoxication. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2010;7(7):2745-2788.
Heavy metal poisoning. NORD—National Organization for Rare Disorders website. Available at: https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/heavy-metal-poisoning. Accessed March 14, 2018.
Kalia K. Flora SJ. Strategies for safe and effective therapeutic measures for chronic arsenic and lead poisoning. J Occup Health. 2005;47(1):1-21.
Lead toxicity—emergency management. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T910481/Lead-toxicity-emergency-management. Accessed March 14, 2018.
Last reviewed March 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board James P. Cornell, MD Last Last updated: 6/13/2017