Arsenic toxicity is exposure to toxic amounts of arsenic. Arsenic is a naturally occurring element in the earth’s crust. It has no smell or taste. If you suspect you have been exposed to arsenic, contact your doctor right away.
There are 2 primary forms of arsenic:
Inorganic arsenic is much more harmful than organic arsenic.
Arsenic occurs naturally in soil and minerals, and may enter the air, water, and soil. It is also used:
Arsenic toxicity may occur when a person is exposed to toxic amounts of arsenic by:
Some people are more likely to be exposed to arsenic, but it can occur in anyone. Factors that may increase your chance of arsenic exposure include:
In addition, children may be more susceptible than adults to the health effects of arsenic. There is some evidence that arsenic exposure may harm pregnant women and their unborn babies.
Symptoms of acute arsenic exposure generally occur within 30-60 minutes after ingestion. These may include:
Symptoms of chronic arsenic exposure include:
In addition, people exposed to arsenic may be at a greater risk of developing heart disease.
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. It can be difficult to make a diagnosis of arsenic poisoning because symptoms are so varied. If you have concerns about arsenic causing symptoms in yourself or a family member, talk to your doctor.
Your bodily fluids and tissues may be tested. This can be done with:
There is no effective treatment for arsenic toxicity. There is increasing evidence that chelation therapy may benefit some people who were poisoned with arsenic. Chelation therapy involves putting a chemical called a chelating agent into the bloodstream. The chelating agent combines with a toxin to help remove it from the body. Chelating agents may be given by pill or by injection.
If chelation is not indicated or is ineffective, your treatment will be designed to help manage and control your symptoms. Treatment may include IV hydration, for example.
To help reduce your chances of getting arsenic toxicity:
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Environmental Protection Agency
Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
Arsenic. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry website. Available at: http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/substances/toxsubstance.asp?toxid=3. Updated March 3, 2011. Accessed February 16, 2015.
Arsenic and drinking water from private wells. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/drinking/private/wells/disease/arsenic.html. Updated May 3, 2010. Accessed February 16, 2015.
Arsenic—ToxFAQs. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry website. Available at: http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxfaqs/tfacts2.pdf. Updated August 2007. Accessed February 16, 2015.
Acute arsenic poisoning. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114977/Chronic-arsenic-poisoning. Updated December 4, 2012. Accessed September 26, 2016.
Chen Y, Graziano JH, Parvez F, et al. Arsenic exposure from drinking water and mortality from cardiovascular disease in Bangladesh: prospective cohort study. BMJ. 2011;342:d2431.
Chronic arsenic poisoning. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114977/Chronic-arsenic-poisoning. Updated November 30, 2012. Accessed September 26, 2016.
Fourth national report on exposure to environmental chemicals. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/exposurereport/pdf/FourthReport.pdf. Accessed February 16, 2015.
Last reviewed March 2016 by James Cornell, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.