Evaluating selenium poisoning

Ann Clin Lab Sci. Autumn 2006;36(4):409-20.


Selenium poisoning in humans is reviewed from the perspective of the clinical laboratory. While evaluation of selenium poisoning is straightforward when the analytic results are markedly elevated and the patient is acutely symptomatic, distinguishing toxic from non-toxic elevations is a more frequent issue and more challenging. A significant problem is that selenium is determined as its total concentration in spite of the fact that different chemical forms of selenium have different toxic potentials. In the published reports reviewed herein, serum selenium concentrations span the following ranges: 400-30,000 micro g/L associated with acute toxicity, 500-1400 micro g/L associated with chronic toxicity, and <1400 micro g/L free of toxicity; the category is determined by signs and symptoms in the patient. Most reports that describe acute selenium poisoning involve ingestion of inorganic compounds such as selenious acid, found in gun-bluing agents, and fatalities that occur within the first day are associated with postmortem blood selenium levels >1400 micro g/L. Tissue selenium levels show a complex pattern and significant elevations in organs such as kidney are not always indicative of toxicity. As with many trace elements, measuring selenium concentrations in body fluids and tissues tends to be easier than understanding what the results mean.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Animals
  • Chemistry, Clinical / methods*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Reference Values
  • Selenium / blood
  • Selenium / classification
  • Selenium / poisoning*
  • Trace Elements / blood
  • Trace Elements / classification
  • Trace Elements / poisoning*


  • Trace Elements
  • Selenium