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Mercury toxicity

Authors
Gillian Beauchamp, MD
Shana Kusin, MD
Carl-Gustaf Elinder, MD, PhD
Section Editors
Gary C Curhan, MD, ScD
Stephen J Traub, MD
Deputy Editor
Alice M Sheridan, MD

INTRODUCTION

Mercury exists in elemental, inorganic, and organic forms, all of which may be toxic [1-3]. The toxic manifestation depends on the form of exposure. This topic reviews sources of mercury exposure, the clinical manifestations, and the treatment and prevention of mercury toxicity.

Potential toxicity from ingestion of fish during pregnancy is discussed elsewhere. (See "Nutrition in pregnancy", section on 'Fish intake' and "Fish consumption and omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation during pregnancy", section on 'Minimizing exposure to methylmercury in fish'.)

The use of thimerosal in vaccines is discussed elsewhere. (See "Autism and chronic disease: Lack of evidence for thimerosal as a contributing factor".)

ELEMENTAL MERCURY TOXICITY

Elemental mercury is a silver-colored liquid ("quicksilver") that is volatile at room temperature and causes pulmonary and neurologic toxicity, as well as nephrotoxicity in severe or prolonged exposures [4]. Elemental mercury is vapor at room temperature, and the major route of absorption is through the lungs [5]. Elemental mercury is poorly absorbed via the gastrointestinal tract or skin [5]. Although a small fraction of the mercury vapor taken into the lung is eliminated via exhalation, most absorbed mercury is eliminated in the feces [6,7].

The central nervous system is the major site of deposition for mercury derived from inhalation exposure of vapor.

                               

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Literature review current through: Nov 2016. | This topic last updated: Wed May 11 00:00:00 GMT+00:00 2016.
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