Mercury poisoning is poisoning with mercury. A distinction can be made between acute and chronic mercury poisoning.
What is mercury poisoning?
Mercury poisoning is also known as mercurialism. It is caused by direct intake of larger amounts of mercury or by long-term intake of smaller amounts of mercury. Mercury is one of the toxic heavy metals. Possible symptoms range from headaches, nausea and dizziness to vision or gait disorders. Mercury poisoning is treated with an antidote. Cutler protocols are used in alternative medicine. See sportingology for Meaning of Hypotrichosis in English.
Acute mercury poisoning is almost always the result of an accident. In the home, acute short-term poisoning with mercury can result from broken clinical thermometers or energy-saving lamps. However, studies have shown that short-term exposure is not a concern. Fatal acute mercury poisoning is very rare.
In total, there are only ten cases of acute poisoning worldwide that ended fatally. These were always occupational accidents in industry or research. Mercury is particularly toxic in organic compounds (e.g. as dimethylmercury). However, chronic mercury poisoning occurs much more frequently. The main cause here is the consumption of food contaminated with mercury.
An example of such chronic intoxication is Minamata disease. The disease was named after the Japanese city of Minamata, where thousands of people became chronically ill from eating contaminated seaweed and fish. Amalgam, a substance used in dentistry for fillings, is also suspected of being able to trigger chronic mercury poisoning. Other possible causes of chronic poisoning with mercury are the intake of the toxic substance at work or at home.
Symptoms, Ailments & Signs
The early symptoms of acute poisoning are nausea, dizziness and headaches. A dry mouth is also typical. An intake of 150 to 300 milligrams is fatal. Kidney or liver damage occurs long after the mercury has been ingested.
Chronic mercury intoxication often causes non-specific symptoms. The mercury is deposited in the teeth, in the spinal cord, in the internal organs, in the nerve tracts and in the brain. It is found in urine, blood, stool and even breast milk. Those affected initially only suffer from fatigue and headaches and body aches. Later, paralysis, unsteady gait, psychoses and, in severe cases, even coma occur.
If left untreated, the disease is fatal. In pregnant women, the toxic substance reaches the unborn child via the umbilical cord. The affected children are born with various disabilities.
Diagnosis & course of disease
If chronic mercury intoxication is suspected, various diagnostic methods are available. Mercury can be detected in urine using the DMPS mobilization test. DMPS forms a water-soluble complex with mercury. The heavy metal deposits in the organs are to be mobilized and excreted within the scope of this test. The mercury concentration in the urine is subject to daily fluctuations and deviations. Therefore, the urine is collected over 24 hours for the determination.
The chewing gum test is used to determine the mercury content in saliva. This test involves chewing sugar-free gum for ten minutes. The saliva that forms when chewing is collected and then examined in the laboratory. However, the exact mercury exposure cannot be diagnosed with this test. Rather, the test indicates whether mercury is released from existing amalgam fillings.
Mercury can also be detected in the blood using various laboratory methods. However, the mercury content in the blood is more likely to indicate a recent exposure. In addition, mercury is also built into the hair roots. The mercury content in the hair is also a good measure of stresses that have occurred a long time ago.
Mercury intoxication initially causes inflammation of the gums, loosening of the teeth, diarrhea and inflammation of the kidneys. Serious complications develop from these symptoms as the disease progresses. Damage to the nervous system, which can be associated with muscle twitching, mood swings, states of excitement and anxiety and speech or vision disorders, is typical of a chronic course. Personality changes and difficulty concentrating can also occur.
In general, the heavy metal damages the entire organism. In addition to the nervous system, the internal organs, the gastrointestinal tract and the skin are often affected. Possible late effects are irreparable kidney and liver damage as well as permanent ear, eye and nasopharynx diseases. If mercury poisoning is recognized and treated early, these serious complications can be avoided. However, the treatment methods also have risks.
Antidotes such as dimercaptosuccinic acid and dimercaptopropanesulfonic acid are typically used – both associated with side effects such as dizziness, nausea and vomiting, fever and chills. Acetylcysteine and other medications can also cause side effects and interactions. Intravenous treatment itself can lead to infection at the injection site. Rarely does edema or thrombosis develop, which in turn is associated with complications. After treatment, mercury intoxication may recur.
When should you go to the doctor?
Mercury poisoning should always be treated by a doctor. Only early diagnosis and treatment can prevent further complications and, in the worst case, death. This disease does not heal itself, so mercury intoxication should always be treated by a doctor. A doctor should be consulted if the person concerned has ingested an increased amount of mercury. This leads to a very dry mouth and severe fatigue.
Paralysis or severe headaches can also indicate mercury intoxication and should be examined by a doctor. The person concerned can also fall into a coma or have severe psychoses. If these symptoms occur after accidental ingestion, you must go to the hospital immediately or call an ambulance. As a rule, mercury intoxication can be treated relatively well if treatment is started early.
Treatment & Therapy
Mercury poisoning is treated with an antidote. So-called complexing agents are used for this. These are substances that form a metal complex with the mercury. These mercury-antidote complexes can be better filtered out of the blood by the kidneys. Substances such as dimercaptopropanesulfonic acid (DMPS) or dimercaptosuccinic acid (DMSA) are used.
If the intoxication was triggered by ingestion of organic mercury poisoning such as methylmercury, acetylcysteine (NAC) is administered. In the past, minerals were also used to remove mercury. Studies have shown, however, that the effect is not sufficient. In alternative medicine, the so-called Cutler protocol is used. The protocol also uses DMSA or DMPS. In addition, alpha lipoic acid (ALA) is used.
In order to prevent mercury intoxication, care must be taken when handling the toxic heavy metal. The indoor air hygiene commission of the German Federal Environment Agency has developed indoor air guideline values for mercury. Guideline II regulates the concentration of mercury, which must be dealt with immediately if it is exceeded. Speedy action is recommended for reference value II. Technical and structural measures may be necessary to reduce the concentration.
If clinical thermometers, barometers, blood pressure monitors or energy-saving lamps break in closed rooms, the air can be contaminated with mercury vapors. The affected room should be well ventilated immediately. Adequate ventilation may be required for several weeks. Visible mercury globules should be carefully aspirated with a pipette and stored in a vessel under water until disposal.
If mercury spheres get into inaccessible cracks or corners, they must be fixed with mercury-absorbing agents. Because mercury vapor is heavier than air, it sinks. Small children and children who often play on the floor are therefore particularly at risk and should not play in rooms contaminated with mercury. Under no circumstances should the mercury be vacuumed up. The metal and the toxic fumes are thus distributed over a wide area.
Following mercury poisoning, it is particularly important to follow the doctor’s instructions. There are no effective home remedies available to cure it. Therefore, the consistent intake of the prescribed medication is of crucial importance for a rapid and lasting treatment success.
Furthermore, patients can combat the accompanying symptoms of mercury intoxication. Creams and ointments containing fat or histamine, which are available in pharmacies without a prescription, help with severe itching. If you can’t get the itching under control with this, you can wear special cotton gloves to prevent your skin from being scratched, especially at night. Scratching causes injuries to the skin, which can lead to other diseases, including secondary inflammation in particular.
Many patients complain of gum problems after mercury poisoning. Here it is advisable to visit the dentist if specific symptoms appear. But even without acute symptoms, affected patients should pay attention to careful oral hygiene after mercury intoxication. Inflammation of the gums can be effectively counteracted with antibacterial mouthwashes, dental floss and, if necessary, interdental brushes for the spaces between the teeth.
Finally, it is important to identify the source of mercury poisoning. If the source of the poisoning cannot be eliminated, other people should be warned to avoid further cases of poisoning.
You can do that yourself
The doctor treating you has probably already prescribed chelation or other drainage therapy to eliminate the mercury. However, the patient himself can also do a number of things to eliminate toxic metal residues from his body. This includes going to the sauna, steam baths and sweaty sports, because toxins are eliminated with sweat. Water-rich foods such as fruit, tomatoes or asparagus also have a detoxifying effect. The person concerned should further support the detoxification process by not absorbing any other toxins. These primarily include alcohol and nicotine, but also car exhaust fumes, particulate matter and other air pollution. If these detoxification measures are not sufficient, many doctors recommend the so-called “Cutler protocol” as an alternative. However, it is controversial and very time-consuming.
The mercury poisoning may have damaged the affected person’s oral mucosa. This makes meticulous oral and dental care essential. Dentists provide recommendations and assistance here.
If the mercury poisoning is more advanced, the physical consequences are treated symptomatically. These treatments can assist the patient with a healthy lifestyle. To avoid cachexia, he should eat enough, even if it is difficult. The same applies to a regulated sleep-wake cycle. It should also be aimed for if the patient suffers from sleep disorders. Fixed rest periods, which must be observed at all times, are helpful here.