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  QUESTION: Is brain damage caused by lead poisoning invisible to CT's and MRI's? 15 Aug 2005, Massachusetts United States of America

I am positive that I ingested and inhaled a large amount of lead paint dust roughly 10 years ago. I was removing paint from the exterior of my home with a rotary sanding wheel. I used no protection like a mask or gloves, etc.. because I was unaware that the paint had lead in it.

I mentioned to my father, who owns the home that the dust had a sweet taste, just like sweet-n-low. He told me that the paint was lead paint and yes, I got a lecture. After that I used a mask to cover my mouth and nose.

I had an infant at the time and she was diagnosed with lead poisoning at her next doctor's appointment. She was treated and is fine. I, however, never even considered that I was poisoned because I was under the impression that only children are affected by lead.

Now, at 40 years of age I have been suffering from Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, seizures, Restless Leg Syndrome, cognitive impairment, chronic kidney stones, urinary problems and other symptoms of Epilepsy. I became unable to work for over a year now.

I have had gastro-intestinal problems and not been well for a good 8 years but still was able to hold a job. I dealt with all the minor symptoms as a simple inconvenience until I was suddenly floored with exhaustion and neurological problems last May.
I was sure that I had MS because of a perfect match in symptoms but countless tests came back negative. I have undergone many CT scans and MRI's on my brain and spinal cord with negative results. All blood work comes back negative.
I had completely forgotten about the lead exposure and never mentioned it to my doctor, therefore, do they even test for lead poisoning in an adult CBC?

My questions are:

  1. Can it take that long for the damages from lead poisoning to affect me?
  2. Would a blood test even show anything after all these years?
  3. Is the brain damage caused by lead poisoning invisible to CT's and MRI's?

I made the link to lead poisoning when I did research on Epilepsy.

Please let me know if you believe this untreated lead exposure could be they key to my illness. The total exposure lasted daily for roughly three months before I began using a disposable face mask.

ANSWER: 07 Sep 2005

Dear Lori,

The damage from lead can become evident at any time in life because when you take lead in, it is mostly stored in your bones so anything that causes demineralisation of bones can then allow that lead to come back into the bloodstream where it is available to every organ in the body (most notably the brain) all over again. Triggers for demineralisation include pregnancy, lactation, menopause, bone breaks, drastic changes in activity level (eg suddenly being bed-ridden or suddenly beginning training for a marathon), some drugs such as cortisone and a range of other factors.

To determine how much endogenous lead (ie lead from your own body stores) is coming into your bloodstream, the best test is indeed the blood lead test.

Perhaps you have asked your doctor to do this test since you wrote to me?

I'd be very interested in the result.

I'm afraid I don't know the answer to: "Is the brain damage caused by lead poisoning invisible to CT's and MRI's?" but I believe it is possible that the damage is not visible and I have certainly never heard of a patient being diagnosed with lead poisoning on the basis of a CT or MRI. Diagnosis is always done on the basis of a blood lead test and unfortunately, blood lead tests are not part of any standard blood testing. Doctors only know to do a lead test if they or you suspect lead poisoning.

I hope this helps and I look forward to hearing back from you.

Yours Sincerely
Elizabeth O'Brien

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