The effects of ricin poisoning depend on whether ricin was inhaled, ingested, or injected. Ricin poisoning can eventually lead to multiple organ failure, leading to death within 36-72 hours of exposure, depending on the dosage of ricin and mode of exposure. There is no antidote for ricin; hence, ricin poisoning is mainly treated symptomatically with supportive medical care to reduce the effects of poisoning.
What is ricin?
Ricin is a poison found naturally in castor beans. Ricin poisoning can occur if castor beans are chewed and swallowed, and the released ricin causes complications. Ricin can be made from castor beans in powder, pellets, or mist form and can be dissolved in water or weak acids. It can be used as a bioweapon. Castor beans are used to make castor oil, and ricin is part of the waste material during the process.
How does ricin poisoning occur?
One may be unintentionally exposed to ricin by accidentally ingesting castor beans. Ricin is also used as a bioweapon and used in war or terrorism. Ricin poisoning is not contagious and does not spread through casual contact. Coming in contact with someone who has ricin on their body or clothes can lead to ricin exposure and poisoning.
Once exposed, ricin enters the cells of the body, preventing the cells from synthesizing proteins needed for their survival. Eventually, ricin poisoning spreads throughout the entire body causing death.
What are the signs and symptoms of ricin poisoning?
The effects of ricin poisoning depend on whether ricin was inhaled, ingested, or injected. Ricin poisoning can eventually lead to multiple organ failure, leading to death within 36-72 hours of exposure, depending on the dosage of ricin and mode of exposure.
Inhalation of ricin: Symptoms can develop from four to eight hours up to 24 hours after initial exposure. Poisoning can eventually lead to respiratory failure and death.
- Severe difficulty breathing
- Chest discomfort
- Tightness in the chest
- Profuse sweating
- Bluish discoloration of the skin
- Low blood pressure
Ingestion: If a significant amount is ingested, poisoning may present with:
- Diarrhea that may become bloody
- Blood in the urine
- Severe dehydration
- Low blood pressure
- Failure of the kidneys, liver, and spleen, leading to death
Skin and eye exposure: Direct contact with ricin powders or contact with items that have ricin on them can cause ricin poisoning, but it’s rare. Poisoning presents with redness and/or pain of the skin and the eyes.
How ricin poisoning is treated?
There is no antidote available for ricin to reverse the effects of ricin poisoning; hence, it is advised to try to avoid exposure.
When ricin exposure is suspected, it is important to call for medical help right away (911 in America), after which the following protective measures advised:
- Leaving the contaminated area right away and getting fresh air.
- Removing clothing as quickly as possible. Clothes should not be pulled over the head to avoid ricin exposure to the eyes or mouth. Instead, the clothes should be cut off.
- Washing the body as soon as the clothes are taken off is advised. Washing the entire body with soap and water and washing the hair with shampoo would help protect the body and reduce contamination. If the eyes have been exposed to ricin or in the presence of burning of eyes or vision problems, they should be rinsed with water thoroughly for 10-15 minutes.
- Disposal of contaminated clothes is important to prevent further contamination and to protect others from exposure. The clothes should be sealed in a plastic bag. Once emergency medical help arrives, the plastic bag should be handed over to them for safe disposal.
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Common Medical Abbreviations & Terms
Doctors, pharmacists, and other health-care professionals use abbreviations, acronyms, and other terminology for instructions and information in regard to a patient's health condition, prescription drugs they are to take, or medical procedures that have been ordered. There is no approved this list of common medical abbreviations, acronyms, and terminology used by doctors and other health- care professionals. You can use this list of medical abbreviations and acronyms written by our doctors the next time you can't understand what is on your prescription package, blood test results, or medical procedure orders. Examples include:
- ANED: Alive no evidence of disease. The patient arrived in the ER alive with no evidence of disease.
- ARF: Acute renal (kidney) failure
- cap: Capsule.
- CPAP: Continuous positive airway pressure. A treatment for sleep apnea.
- DJD: Degenerative joint disease. Another term for osteoarthritis.
- DM: Diabetes mellitus. Type 1 and type 2 diabetes
- HA: Headache
- IBD: Inflammatory bowel disease. A name for two disorders of the gastrointestinal (BI) tract, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis
- JT: Joint
- N/V: Nausea or vomiting.
- p.o.: By mouth. From the Latin terminology per os.
- q.i.d.: Four times daily. As in taking a medicine four times daily.
- RA: Rheumatoid arthritis
- SOB: Shortness of breath.
- T: Temperature. Temperature is recorded as part of the physical examination. It is one of the "vital signs."
dimercaprolDimercaprol is used as an antidote for poisoning from minerals including arsenic, gold, and mercury, and concomitantly with edetate calcium disodium to treat acute lead poisoning. Common side effects of dimercaprol include high blood pressure (hypertension), rapid heart rate (tachycardia), chest pain, headache, fever in children, burning sensation in the lips, mouth and throat; tightness and/or pain in the throat, chest or hands; inflammation of the conjunctiva, spasm of eyelids (blepharospasm), watering eyes (lacrimation), nasal discharge (rhinorrhea), nausea, vomiting, salivation, throat swelling and irritation, sore throat, abdominal pain, tingling of hands (paresthesia), anxiety, nervousness, weakness, burning sensation in the penis, excessive sweating (diaphoresis), pain at injection site, painful sterile abscesses, kidney insufficiency, and low count of leukocyte immune cells (leukopenia).
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Poison Control CentersThe United States National Poison Hotline is 1-800-222-1222. When you call this number you will be automatically linked to the nearest poison center in the United States. Call this number 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to talk to a poison expert.