Perspectives on lead toxicity

Clin Biochem. 1993 Oct;26(5):371-81. doi: 10.1016/0009-9120(93)90113-k.


Lead toxicity causes hematological, gastrointestinal, and neurological dysfunction in adults and children. Symptoms are usually noted with blood lead greater than 1.93 mumol/L. Severe or prolonged exposure may also cause chronic nephropathy, hypertension, and reproductive impairment. Lead inhibits enzymes; alters cellular calcium metabolism; stimulates synthesis of binding proteins in kidney, brain, and bone; and slows nerve conduction. Less severe exposure to lead, designated by blood lead levels of 0.48-0.96 mumol/L, has been implicated in poor pregnancy outcome, impaired neurobehavioral development, reduced stature in young children, and higher blood pressure in adults. Biochemical and systemic effects of high and low level lead toxicity are described. Dust, water, and paint chips are still major sources of lead but lead from folk remedies, cosmetics, food supplements, food preparation utensils, and improperly prepared infant formula has caused epidemic and sporadic severe lead toxicity. Screening for pediatric low level lead exposure requires measurement of blood lead.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Blood Pressure / drug effects
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Child, Preschool
  • Endocrine Glands / drug effects
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Erythrocytes / drug effects
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Kidney Diseases / chemically induced
  • Lead / adverse effects*
  • Lead / analysis
  • Lead / blood
  • Lead Poisoning / complications*
  • Lead Poisoning / diagnosis
  • Lead Poisoning / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / chemically induced
  • Reproduction / drug effects


  • Lead