Barium is a silver-white metal that exists in nature only in ores containing mixtures of various metals. It combines with other chemicals such as sulfur or carbon and oxygen to form barium compounds. Barium compounds are used by the oil and gas industries at drilling sites for drilling lubrication. They are also used in the manufacture of paints, bricks and ceramics, glass and rubber. Barium sulphate is used in medicine for medical examinations, as x-ray material in X-rays to visualize the gastrointestinal tract (barium meal and barium hypokalemia).
How is one exposed to barium?
- Swallowing small quantities of food and water or breathing air containing very low levels of barium.
- Living in areas with very high levels of barium in drinking water.
- As employees in jobs involving the production or use of barium.
- Living or working near barium waste disposal sites.
How can barium affect health?
The health effects of various barium compounds depend on how easily the compound dissolves in water or stomach contents. Barium compounds that do not dissolve well, such as barium sulfate used as a contrast medium in medicine, are generally not harmful.
Barium can cause gastrointestinal disorders and muscle weakness when people are exposed to levels above what is permitted for relatively short periods of time. When Barium is present in food and water above permitted levels, consuming it for a short period of time can lead to vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, increased or decreased blood pressure, facial numbness. and muscle weakness. Eating large quantities of barium compounds that are readily dissolved in water can cause changes in heart rate or paralysis and may result in death. Some of the toxic effects of barium may be due to the inhibition of potassium cell pumps, which are very important for the function of nerve cells. Experimental animals who drank barium water for extended periods of time showed kidney damage, weight loss, and some died prematurely.
Some heavy metal ions, such as barium, lead and mercury, inhibit enzymatic reactions because they can bind to the sulfhydryl groups (-SH) that form part of the active center of many enzymes.
Barium is probably not carcinogenic and does not accumulate in tissues.
How can the risk of exposure to barium be reduced?
The most important source of exposure in barium is through food and drinking water. However, the amount of barium in food and drinking water is usually too small to cause any anxiety.
How can one determine if one has been exposed to barium?
We can measure barium levels in blood and most biological materials.
Determination of metals is done by ICP-MS (Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry), a method that enables the simultaneous detection of many metals. Its sensitivity and accuracy are significantly better than conventional atomic absorption, with the ability to measure metals at concentrations up to 1 in 1015 (1 in 1 quadrillion, ppq)!
Laboratory test results are the most important parameter for the diagnosis and monitoring of all pathological conditions. 70%-80% of diagnostic decisions are based on laboratory tests. Correct interpretation of laboratory results allows a doctor to distinguish "healthy" from "diseased".
Laboratory test results should not be interpreted from the numerical result of a single analysis. Test results should be interpreted in relation to each individual case and family history, clinical findings and the results of other laboratory tests and information. Your personal physician should explain the importance of your test results.
At Diagnostiki Athinon we answer any questions you may have about the test you perform in our laboratory and we contact your doctor to get the best possible medical care.