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Epidemiology and toxicity of cadmium

Carl-Gustaf Elinder, MD, PhD
Stephen J Traub, MD
Section Editor
Gary C Curhan, MD, ScD
Deputy Editor
Alice M Sheridan, MD


Cadmium (Cd) is a metal that can cause severe acute or chronic toxicity in humans. Most cases of cadmium toxicity are due to chronic exposure. Chronic, low-level cadmium exposure can affect a variety of organs, with the kidneys and bones being the principal targets [1-3]. Acute cadmium toxicity is less common. Depending upon the route of exposure, acute cadmium toxicity primarily affects the lungs and gastrointestinal tract.

This topic reviews chronic and acute cadmium toxicity. Other heavy metal toxicities are discussed elsewhere. (See "Mercury toxicity" and "Lead nephropathy and lead-related nephrotoxicity" and "Childhood lead poisoning: Clinical manifestations and diagnosis" and "Arsenic exposure and poisoning".)


Source of exposure — Cadmium is a relatively rare heavy metal that occurs naturally in combination with zinc. Environmental contamination and consequent human exposure to cadmium have dramatically increased during the past 100 years [4,5]. Cadmium commonly contaminates the environment via cadmium-containing material in household waste, industrial emissions, and soil. As examples:

Cadmium-containing products are frequently thrown out with the household garbage; the metal is then released into the atmosphere if the waste is burned.

Cadmium emissions are released from mining and nonferrous smelters.

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Sep 25, 2017.
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