Gastrointestinal Effects

How is the Stomach Susceptible to Lead Toxicity?
In an incident of acute poisoning, the high toxicity of lead can result in gastrointestinal problems including constipation, diarrhea, vomiting, colic, poor appetite and weight.1

Lead-induced colic can also cause sporadic vomiting, intermittent abdominal pain. Constipation, may occur with a lead level as low as 60 mcg/dL. In more severe cases of lead poisoning, children and adults may experience severe cramping and abdominal pain which is sometimes mistaken for an acute abdomen or appendicitis.

Are Children More Susceptible?
Children absorb a greater proportion of lead from the gastrointestinal tract than do adults (up to 70 percent for children compared to 20 percent for adults).2

In both children and adults, fasting, iron deficiency, and calcium deficiency may also increase the gastrointestinal absorption of lead.3

  1. Lead Toxicity:  What Are the Physiologic Effects of Lead Exposure? Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, August 20, 2007.
  2. Mineral and Trace-Metal Balances in Children Receiving Normal and Synthetic Diets, Alexander, Clayton and Delves, Q J Med. 1974;43(169):89.
  3. Effects of Meals and Meal Times on Uptake of Lead from the Gastrointestinal Tract in Humans, James, Hilburn  and Blair, Human Toxicology,. 1985;4(4):401