Deaths Associated With Hypocalcemia From Chelation therapy--Texas, Pennsylvania, and Oregon, 2003-2005

MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2006 Mar 3;55(8):204-7.


Chelating agents bind lead in soft tissues and are used in the treatment of lead poisoning to enhance urinary and biliary excretion of lead, thus decreasing total lead levels in the body. During the past 30 years, environmental and dietary exposures to lead have decreased substantially, resulting in a considerable decrease in population blood lead levels (BLLs) and a corresponding decrease in the number of patients requiring chelation therapy. Chelating agents also increase excretion of other heavy metals and minerals, such as zinc and, in certain cases, calcium. This report describes three deaths associated with chelation-therapy--related hypocalcemia that resulted in cardiac arrest. Several drugs are used in the treatment of lead poisoning, including edetate disodium calcium (CaEDTA), dimercaperol (British anti-Lewisite), D-penicillamine, and meso-2,3-dimercaptosuccinic acid (succimer). Health-care providers who are unfamiliar with chelating agents and are considering this treatment for lead poisoning should consult an expert in the chemotherapy of lead poisoning. Hospital pharmacies should evaluate whether continued stocking of Na2EDTA is necessary, given the established risk for hypocalcemia, the availability of less toxic alternatives, and an ongoing safety review by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Health-care providers and pharmacists should ensure that Na2EDTA is not administered to children during chelation therapy.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Chelating Agents / adverse effects*
  • Chelation Therapy / adverse effects
  • Chelation Therapy / mortality*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Edetic Acid / adverse effects*
  • Fatal Outcome
  • Female
  • Heart Arrest / etiology
  • Humans
  • Hypocalcemia / etiology*
  • Hypocalcemia / mortality
  • Lead
  • Lead Poisoning / therapy
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oregon / epidemiology
  • Pennsylvania / epidemiology
  • Texas / epidemiology


  • Chelating Agents
  • Lead
  • Edetic Acid