Peripheral vascular diseases resulting from chronic arsenical poisoning

J Dermatol. 2002 Mar;29(3):123-30. doi: 10.1111/j.1346-8138.2002.tb00234.x.


Drinking water contaminated by arsenic remains a major public health problem. Long-term arsenic exposure has been found to be associated with peripheral vascular diseases in a variety of studies. Reports of vascular effects of arsenic in drinking water, which span almost 100 years, have been published in Taiwan, Chile, Mexico, and China. This paper reviewed the association of peripheral vascular diseases resulting from arsenic exposure to drinking water from the clinical and pathological points of view. An endemic peripheral vascular disorder called "blackfoot disease" has been noticed in a limited area in Taiwan. This disease results in gangrene in the extremities. It has been associated with the ingestion of high concentrations of arsenic-tainted artesian well water. Epidemiological studies confirmed a dose-response relationship between long-term arsenic exposure and the occurrence of blackfoot disease. Whereas arsenic has induced various clinical manifestations of vascular effects in Chile, Mexico and China, they do not compare in magnitude or severity to the blackfoot disease found in Taiwan. The pathogenesis of vascular effects induced by arsenic is still controversial. The possible mechanisms include endothelial cell destruction, arsenic-associated atherogenesis, carotene and zinc deficiency, and/or some immunological mechanism. Microcirculatory assessments revealed that deficits of capillary blood flow and permeability exist in clinically normal skin of patients with chronic arsenical poisoning. The vascular effects of chronic arsenic poisoning may involve cardiovascular and cerebrovascular systems as well. In view of the increasing public health problems caused by arsenic exposure, vascular effects should be included in the future study of health effects of arsenic.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arsenic / analysis
  • Arsenic / pharmacology
  • Arsenic Poisoning / complications*
  • Arsenic Poisoning / epidemiology
  • China / epidemiology
  • Chronic Disease
  • Humans
  • Latin America / epidemiology
  • Microcirculation / drug effects
  • Peripheral Vascular Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Peripheral Vascular Diseases / epidemiology
  • Skin / blood supply
  • Skin Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / adverse effects*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis


  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Arsenic