Mercury Poisoning

What are the side effects, signs, and symptoms of mercury poisoning?

What are the side effects methylmercury poisoning in fetus' and humans?

For fetuses, infants, and children, the primary health effect of methylmercury is impaired neurological development. Methylmercury exposure in the womb, which can result from a mother's consumption of fish and shellfish that contain methylmercury, can adversely affect a baby's growing brain and nervous system. Impacts on cognitive thinking, memory, attention, language, and fine motor and visual spatial skills have been seen in children exposed to methylmercury in the womb. Recent human biological monitoring by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1999 and 2000 (PDF) shows that most people have blood mercury levels below a level associated with possible health effects. More recent data from the CDC support this general finding.

Outbreaks of methylmercury poisonings have made it clear that adults, children, and developing fetuses are at risk from ingestion exposure to methylmercury. During these poisoning outbreaks some mothers with no symptoms of nervous system damage gave birth to infants with severe disabilities, it became clear that the developing nervous system of the fetus may be more vulnerable to methylmercury than is the adult nervous system.

For more information on fish consumption advisories across the country, visit EPA's fish consumption web pages.

What are the signs and symptoms of methylmercury poisoning?

In addition to the subtle impairments noted above, symptoms of methylmercury poisoning may include;

  • impairment of the peripheral vision;
  • disturbances in sensations ("pins and needles" feelings, usually in the hands, feet, and around the mouth);
  • lack of coordination of movements;
  • impairment of speech, hearing, walking; and
  • muscle weakness.

People concerned about their exposure to methylmercury should consult their physician.

What are the side effects of elemental mercury?

Elemental (metallic) mercury primarily causes health effects when it is breathed as a vapor where it can be absorbed through the lungs. These exposures can occur when elemental mercury is spilled or products that contain elemental mercury break and expose mercury to the air, particularly in warm or poorly-ventilated indoor spaces.

What are the signs and symptoms of elemental mercury?

Symptoms include these:

  • tremors;
  • emotional changes (for example, mood swings, irritability, nervousness, excessive shyness);
  • insomnia;
  • neuromuscular changes (such as weakness, muscle atrophy, twitching);
  • headaches;
  • disturbances in sensations;
  • changes in nerve responses;
  • performance deficits on tests of cognitive function.

At higher exposures there may be kidney effects, respiratory failure and death. People concerned about their exposure to elemental mercury should consult their physician.

What are the side effects of other mercury compounds (inorganic and organic)?

High exposures to inorganic mercury may result in damage to the gastrointestinal tract, the nervous system, and the kidneys. Both inorganic and organic mercury compounds are absorbed through the gastrointestinal tract and affect other systems via this route. However, organic mercury compounds are more readily absorbed via ingestion than inorganic mercury compounds.

What are the signs and symptoms of high exposures to inorganic mercury?

Symptoms of high exposures to inorganic mercury include:

People concerned about their exposure to inorganic mercury should consult their physician.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/12/2016

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