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Cadmium Toxicity - Its Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

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Cadmium is a toxic metal that can lead to organ toxicity and cancer due to prolonged exposure. Read the article to know more about it.

Written by

Dr. Osheen Kour

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar

Published At March 27, 2023
Reviewed AtMarch 27, 2023


Cadmium toxicity is caused by exposure to cadmium metal through water, air, food, and soil, and it can lead to various health complications. Cadmium poisoning cases are prevalent worldwide as they can be found as a by-product of heavy metals such as lead, copper, and zinc. It can be present in various products like batteries, plastics, fertilizers, cigarettes, metal coatings, metal alloys, and pigments. Cadmium is mainly present in the environment due to various human activities, including burning waste products, fossil fuels, and metal ore combustion. These toxicants are leaked into the atmosphere and agricultural lands and are taken up by the plants. Therefore, cadmium contaminants enter the food chain and affect and thus affect the human body organs via food.

What Are the Symptoms of Cadmium Toxicity?

The symptoms of cadmium toxicity caused by food and water contaminants include:

  • Kidney damage.

  • Stomach cramp.

  • Fragile bones.

  • Nausea.

  • Vomiting.

  • Diarrhea.

  • Death.

The symptoms of cadmium toxicity caused by breathing the contaminants include:

  • Diarrhea.

  • Vomiting.

  • Abdominal pain.

  • Body ache, chills, and weakness.

  • Shortness of breath.

  • Larynx, pharynx, and nose swelling.

What Are the Risk Factors That Can Lead To Cadmium Toxicity?

The risk factors for cadmium toxicity are as follows:

  • A person has nutritional deficiencies in zinc, calcium, protein, and iron.

  • Smoking habits.

  • People working in metal refining and smelting plants or factories.

  • People living near industrial factories and hazardous waste sites produce cadmium contaminants into the air.

  • People who work in factories manufacture cadmium products such as plastics, pigments, and batteries.

What Are the Various Health Effects Caused by Cadmium Toxicity?

Cadmium toxicity may cause diseases such as:

How Do People Get Exposed to Cadmium?

  • Inhalation - This type of cadmium exposure occurs in occupational areas and causes severe health hazards to the people working there. Another inhalation exposure occurs through smoking, as cigarettes also contain high cadmium content.

  • Ingestion - Exposure to cadmium can also occur through ingesting food and water contaminated with cadmium toxins. The prolonged eating of cadmium-containing rice can cause bone disease (Itai-Itai disease) and kidney disorders. Industrial waste containing cadmium and leakage of toxins in the agricultural soil causes cadmium toxicity in plants, affecting human health.

  • Skin Exposure - This route is not considered a significant threat for cadmium exposure as this route can cause comparatively less or negligible cadmium toxicity to a person.

How Is Cadmium Toxicity Diagnosed?

Cadmium toxicity is diagnosed in the following ways:

  • Blood Test: This help to analyze acute cadmium exposures.

  • Urine Test: The test is usually recommended in chronic cadmium toxicity diagnosis to evaluate the total cadmium burden in a person. The doctor also uses urine protein testing for high-risk cases of chronic cadmium poisoning.

  • Nails and Hair Analysis: Traces of heavy metal elements are present for a long time and can accumulate in the hair and nails of a person. Thus, nails and hair analysis is also helpful in diagnosing cadmium toxicity levels.

  • Saliva Analysis: Saliva analysis can easily detect long-term heavy metal exposure.

How Is Cadmium Toxicity Treated?

The doctor treats cadmium toxicity in the following ways:

  • The doctor evaluates the airway, breathing, and circulation during the initial phase of the treatment to ensure supportive therapy for the same.

  • The doctor treats single cadmium exposure with gastric lavage or emesis for gastric decontamination. Activated charcoal therapy is not very effective in cadmium toxicity cases.

  • The doctor also uses chelating agents to detoxify the cadmium metal from the person’s body.

  • The doctor monitors the person continuously for hepatic and renal dysfunction and gastrointestinal injury.

What Is the Prevention for Cadmium Toxicity?

  • People should eat a balanced diet containing zinc, protein, iron, and calcium.

  • Cigarettes contain a high amount of cadmium. Therefore, a person should quit smoking them.

  • Fertilizers used in vegetables also contain high content of cadmium metal. Thus, people should use fertilizers cautiously to avoid exposure to cadmium.

  • Groundwater also has cadmium content, and people using water through wells should get the water tested before use.

  • People should also keep batteries (nickel-chromium) away from the reach of children.

  • People working in the cadmium industry must follow proper occupational health hazard measures to avoid carrying the exposure to homes.

  • One must identify the potential sources of cadmium in their surroundings to ensure safety measures for children and adults.

What Are the Complications Associated With Chronic Cadmium Poisoning?

  • Pulmonary Toxicity: Cadmium toxicity can cause lunger cancer. However, the researchers still do not clearly define its pulmonary effects due to exposure. The complications caused by chronic cadmium toxicity include:

  • Nephrotoxicity: Chronic cadmium exposure can cause permanent proteinuria in people. In some cases, the renal function of a person continues to get worse even when cadmium exposure is eliminated. Diabetic people and those with a history of renal dysfunction are more susceptible and at risk due to cadmium toxicity.

  • Musculoskeletal Toxicity: This condition usually occurs due to environmental exposure to cadmium. Musculoskeletal toxicity is most common in postmenopausal women causing painful osteomalacia.

  • Neurological Dysfunction: This condition can occur due to cadmium toxicity in the body and causes olfactory imbalance, impaired higher cortical functioning, and parkinsonism.

What Is the Differential Diagnosis for Cadmium Toxicity?

  • Acute cadmium toxicity, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), and pneumonitis are the differential diagnosis.

  • Heavy metal toxicity includes thallium, zinc, arsenic, mercury, and lead.


Cadmium affects human organs and can cause cancer due to chronic exposure. Cadmium toxicity can occur in the body through various known and unknown environmental sources, posing a severe threat to the person's life. Various preventive measures minimize the direction, but accidental and intentional cadmium intoxication has increased globally. Therefore, it is essential to identify the sources of cadmium toxicity near our workplaces, homes, and other surroundings to stay safe and healthy. Also, taking preventive measures can be beneficial, and conducting awareness programs and educating the public can reduce the risk of exposure to cadmium among the general population.

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Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar
Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar

Pulmonology (Asthma Doctors)


cadmium toxicity
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