Mercury Exposure: Evaluation and Intervention the Inappropriate Use of Chelating Agents in the Diagnosis and Treatment of Putative Mercury Poisoning

Neurotoxicology. 2005 Aug;26(4):691-9. doi: 10.1016/j.neuro.2005.05.004.


Public awareness of the potential for mercury to cause health problems has increased dramatically in the last 15 years. It is now widely recognized that significant exposure to all forms of mercury (elemental/metallic and both inorganic and organic compounds) can result in a variety of adverse health effects, including neurological, renal, respiratory, immune, dermatologic, reproductive, and developmental sequellae. And while the various media have made the general population cognizant of the need to avoid unnecessary exposure to this naturally occurring element, there has also evolved a growing tendency to attribute unexplainable neurologic, as well as other, signs and symptoms to mercury, whether or not significant exposure to mercury has actually occurred. For the physician, making a diagnosis of mercury intoxication can be difficult, because many of the clinical signs and symptoms of mercury exposure can also be attributed to any number of causes, including undiagnosed neurological diseases, pharmacotherapy, vitamin or mineral deficiencies, and psychological stress. The physician must be able to recognize the clinical manifestations of mercury intoxication, and understand the importance of biological markers in making a definitive diagnosis of mercury poisoning. In a desire to treat the patient complaining of symptoms similar to some that can be caused by mercury, a growing number of physicians, particularly those in alternative medicine fields, result to chelation to "rid" the body of the mercury, believed to be the cause of the ailments. And although the use of chelation is increasing, controlled studies showing that this procedure actually improves outcome are lacking. If chelation therapy is considered to be indicated, the attending physician should communicate the risks of chelation to the patient before beginning treatment with metal-chelating drugs.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Chelating Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Humans
  • Mercury / toxicity
  • Mercury Poisoning / diagnosis*
  • Mercury Poisoning / drug therapy*
  • Neurotoxicity Syndromes / diagnosis*
  • Neurotoxicity Syndromes / drug therapy*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Chelating Agents
  • Mercury