Chelating Agents for Lead Poisoning

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Chelating Agents for Lead Poisoning


Generic NameBrand Name
dimercaprolBAL in oil

Most chelating agents are given by injection.

Penicillamine (Cuprimine) is a chelation agent that is not used very much. It may help treat children who have low, but still unacceptable, blood lead levels.

How It Works

These medicines:

  • Bind lead in tissues and increase elimination of lead in the urine.
  • Reduce blood lead levels.
  • Reduce further harm from lead poisoning.

Why It Is Used

Chelating agents are used if:

How Well It Works

All chelating agents:

  • Reduce blood lead levels.
  • Reverse some effects of lead poisoning on the blood.
  • May cause the elimination of essential minerals, particularly calcium, magnesium, and zinc.

Side Effects

All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.

Here are some important things to think about:

  • Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
  • Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
  • If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.

Call 911 or other emergency services right away if you have:

  • Trouble breathing.
  • Hives.
  • Swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.
  • Severe muscle cramps.

Common side effects of all chelating agents include:

  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Fever.

Other side effects of BAL include:

  • Rise in blood pressure.
  • Headache.
  • Burning sensation in the lips, mouth, and throat.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Lead sources in your home or workplace must be removed or reduced—or you need to be moved to a lead-safe home—before you have chelation. If this is not possible, you may need to stay in the hospital for treatment.

You may need more than one course of treatment to reduce blood lead levels. How long each treatment lasts depends on your symptoms and the drug used. One course can range from a few days to a few months.

Taking medicine

Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.

There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.

Advice for women

If you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or trying to get pregnant, do not use any medicines unless your doctor tells you to. Some medicines can harm your baby. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. And make sure that all your doctors know that you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant.


Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF) (What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Susan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics
Primary Medical Reviewer Donald Sproule, MD, CM, CCFP, FCFP - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer R. Steven Tharratt, MD, MPVM, FACP, FCCP - Pulmonology, Critical Care Medicine, Medical Toxicology
Last Revised August 3, 2010

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.