Definition

Aluminum toxicity occurs when a person breathes in high levels of aluminum from the air, or stores high levels of aluminum in the body.

Aluminum is the most abundant metal in the earth’s crust, and is present in the environment combined with other elements (eg, oxygen, silicon, fluorine). Exposure to aluminum is usually not harmful, but exposure to high levels can cause serious health problems. If you suspect you have been exposed to high levels of aluminum, contact your doctor.

Causes

Because aluminum is found in virtually all food, water, air, and soil, people may be exposed to high levels of aluminum when they:

  • Eat foods containing high levels of aluminum
  • Breath aluminum dust in workplace air
  • Live in dusty environments
  • Live where aluminum is mined or processed
  • Live near certain hazardous waste sites
  • Live where aluminum is naturally high
  • Receive vaccinations containing aluminum

Risk Factors

Anyone can develop this condition, but certain people are more likely to develop aluminum toxicity. The following factors increase your chances of developing aluminum toxicity. If you have either of these risk factors, tell your doctor:

  • Age: older people
  • Diminished kidney function

Symptoms

If you experience any of these symptoms, do not assume it is because of aluminum toxicity. These symptoms may be caused by other, less serious health conditions. If you experience any one of them, see your physician, especially if you have kidney disease or are on dialysis .

  • Muscle weakness
  • Bone pain
  • Fractures that do not heal, especially in ribs and pelvis
  • Altered mental status
  • Premature osteoporosis
  • Anemia
  • Impaired iron absorption
  • Impaired immunity
  • Seizures
  • Dementia
  • Growth retardation in children
  • Spinal deformities: scoliosis or kyphosis

Red Blood Cells

These vital cells transport oxygen through the body. Symptoms of aluminum toxicity such as anemia and impaired iron absorption decrease the number of red blood cells.
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Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam.

Tests may include the following:

  • Deferoxamine infusion test
  • X-ray of long bones
  • Blood test for anemia
  • Bone biopsy to measure aluminum levels

Treatment

Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include:

Medications

The medication, deferoxamine mesylate, may be given to help eliminate aluminum from your body. This substance works through a procedure known as chelation, which assists in ridding the body of poisonous materials.

Aluminum Avoidance

Your doctor can instruct you on how to avoid exposure to aluminum from your diet and other sources.

Prevention

To help reduce your chances of getting aluminum toxicity, take steps to avoid the following, which may contain aluminum:

  • Antacids
  • Antiperspirants
  • Dialysate (the solution of chemicals used in dialysis)
  • Immunizations
  • TPN (total parenteral nutrition) solutions