Arsenic poisoning is a severe and potentially life-threatening form of poisoning caused by arsenic, a metalloid that is very toxic to most biological systems.
The symptoms of arsenic poisoning depend on the type and concentration of arsenic. The main cause of arsenic poisoning is the consumption of large amounts of arsenic. If arsenic is consumed in large concentrations, it can kill a person rapidly. If arsenic is consumed in lesser concentrations over a long period of time, it can cause serious illness and complications or a prolonged death.
One of the main reasons for arsenic poisoning worldwide is when people drink groundwater that is contaminated with high concentrations of arsenic. The water is contaminated underground by rocks that release the toxic element.
What are the indications?
Signs and symptoms of arsenic poisoning can be categorized as acute or chronic. The symptoms depend on the concentration of arsenic and the method of exposure.
A person who ingested arsenic might have symptoms within half an hour, these include:
- Severe diarrhea
If arsenic has been inhaled or was ingested but in lesser concentrations, the signs and symptoms may take longer to develop. As arsenic poisoning progresses, symptoms will worsen, and the victim may experience severe symptoms such as convulsions and their fingernails may change in pigmentation.
Arsenic poisoning usually involves the skin, liver, lungs, and kidneys. If arsenic poisoning continues to progress to the point it becomes lethal, symptoms such as seizures and shock can appear which can lead to a coma or death.
Treatment of arsenic poisoning
The treatment for arsenic poisoning depends on the type and stage of the poisoning. There are various methods of removing arsenic from the human body. Some methods involve removing arsenic from the body before it causes damages while others repair or minimize the damages caused by arsenic poisoning.
- Removal of clothing that could be contaminated with arsenic
- Thoroughly washing and rinsing affected skin
- Blood transfusions
- Taking heart medication in the event the heart starts to fail
- Closely monitoring of the kidney function
- Bowel irrigation if the substance was ingested
- Chelation therapy, which is the use of certain chemicals to isolate arsenic from blood particles
The details posted on this page on arsenic poisoning is for learning purposes only. To learn to recognize the signs and how it is treated, enroll in a first aid course with one of our training providers.