Identifying and managing adverse environmental health effects: 3. Lead exposure.
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Lead levels in North American children and adults have declined in the past 3 decades, but lead persists in the environment in lead paint, old plumbing and contaminated soil. There are also a number of occupations and hobbies that carry a high risk of lead exposure. There is no evidence for a threshold below which lead has no adverse health effects. Blood lead levels previously considered safe are now known to cause subtle, chronic health effects. The health effects of lead exposure include developmental neurotoxicity, reproductive dysfunction and toxicity to the kidneys, blood and endocrine systems. Most lead exposures are preventable, and diagnosing lead poisoning is relatively simple compared with diagnosing health effects of exposures to other environmental toxins. Accurate assessment of lead poisoning requires specific knowledge of the sources, high-risk groups and relevant laboratory tests. In this article we review the multiple, systemic toxic effects of lead and provide current information on groups at risk, prevention, diagnosis and clinical treatment. We illustrate how the CH2OPD2 mnemonic (Community, Home, Hobbies, Occupation, Personal habits, Diet and Drugs) and specific screening questions are useful tools for physicians to quickly obtain an environmental exposure history and identify patients at high risk of lead exposure. By applying effective primary prevention, case-finding and treatment interventions for lead exposure, both the individual patient and the larger community reap the benefits of better health.
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