Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment  
UPdate Summer 2002

Diagnosis of arsenic poisoning, especially from low doses of inorganic arsenic, the type found in CCA lumber, is not easy. There is no one set of symptoms. Different people respond differently, depending on how much exposure they get, and by what means. Arsenic can be inhaled, ingested (swallowed) or absorbed through contact. Arsenic poisoning is difficult to pin down because most of the arsenic leaves the body within three days of exposure.  The arsenic which remains is stored in the brain, bones, and tissue and continues to do serious damage. Some people have no immediate symptoms, but the exposure can cause many types of cancer or diabetes later on. There is new evidence that arsenic may also lead to heart disease or
strokes. It may cause long term liver, kidney, and central nervous system damage.

Arsenic exposure, even at low levels, can result in a range of symptoms. Swallowing or inhaling low levels of inorganic arsenic can result in stomach ache, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.  It can also result in decreased production of red and white blood cells which may cause fatigue, abnormal heart rhythm, blood-vessel damage resulting in bruising, and impaired nerve function. One of the early warning signs of arsenic poisoning is  a "pins and needles" sensation in hands and feet.
Long-term oral exposure to inorganic arsenic can result in skin changes including a darkening of the skin and the appearance of small "corns" or "warts" on the palms, soles, and torso.

Other signs and symptoms include skin thickening, fluid accumulation (resulting in puffiness) especially around the lower eyelids, face and ankles, diarrhea, garlic breath, perspiration, excessive salivation, generalized itching, oral inflammation, sore throat, runny nose, excessive tearing, numbness, skin inflammation, hair loss, weakness, and loss of appetite. Arsenic can also cause a range of neurological effects, including headaches and vision problems. It can cause noticeable behavioral changes, most commonly aggression or depression.

Because most arsenic leaves your body within a few days, analysis of  urine cannot detect if a person was exposed to arsenic in the past. Tests of hair or fingernails can determine exposure to high levels of arsenic over the past 6-12 months, but these tests are not very useful in detecting low-level exposures.

Early treatment of arsenic poisoning is critical.  The longer arsenic remains in the body, the more damage is done. If arsenic poisoning is determined, oxygen therapy, chelation therapy, saunas and other methods used for detoxification of heavy metals is the usual treatment. There is some new information that selenium may help decrease the effects of arsenic. Naturopaths may be able to help with diagnosis and treatment with other methods.