Copper Poisoning – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Copper poisoning

Copper poisoning belongs to the category of heavy metal poisoning . A distinction is made as to whether the course is acute or chronic. It is important that medical help is sought immediately at the first sign.

What is copper poisoning?

In the context of heavy metal poisoning, so-called toxic metals penetrate directly into the organism, which subsequently trigger poisoning effects. This includes copper poisoning . But other metals such as nickel, iron , zinc and arsenic also belong to the category of heavy metals and cause corresponding poisoning.

Of course, copper is necessary in small amounts for the organism to remain viable. However, if there is a significantly increased copper dosage, poisoning occurs as a further consequence. Compared to aluminium, mercury or cadmium, poisoning does not occur immediately with an increased dose of copper; However, with the metals mentioned above, a small amount is enough to speak of poisoning.


There are many causes of copper poisoning. For example, the copper can come from direct food intake; sometimes, however, toxic substances can also escape, which can subsequently lead to corresponding poisoning. A classic trigger is copper-contaminated drinking water. Old copper pipes in particular are often responsible for traces of the heavy metal getting into the drinking water, with the result that poisoning occurs.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

The person concerned complains of various symptoms that can occur as part of copper poisoning. Disorders of consciousness are classic , with complaints mainly about drowsiness . The person concerned reports inner restlessness , is tense and also has enormous concentration difficulties .

The affected person subsequently suffers from anxiety disorders and has problems with his memory ], so that doctors – in the context of copper poisoning – repeatedly speak of memory disorders. Sweating , blood pressure fluctuations and cardiac arrhythmias also occur . In many cases, rashes are documented; sometimes allergic reactions occur. In the case of copper poisoning, the person affected also complains of nausea and vomiting .

Diagnosis & disease progression

Copper poisoning can be either acute or very sudden. Of course, the course of the disease depends on how high the copper dose was or what amount is present in the body. In a few cases, the dosage is so borderline that the patient does not always complain about the symptoms listed above.

However, the limit values ​​are often exceeded in such a way that all symptoms become a permanent condition, which can sometimes also affect the health and life of the patient. The doctor must therefore prove the copper in the body of the person concerned. For this he uses modern diagnostic methods and implements special procedures. A description of the symptoms is often enough for the doctor to suspect that it is copper poisoning.

The problem with poisoning, however, is that the symptoms are long-lasting and sometimes unspecific. Of course, it cannot be ruled out that the doctor will also make incorrect diagnoses. Often also when the doctor – because of the different symptoms – is sent on the wrong “track”.


A fatty liver can become inflamed, and if left untreated, this acute hepatitis often becomes chronic. This also increases the risk of developing liver cirrhosis (shrunken liver) or liver cancer. As a complication of liver cirrhosis, varicose veins often develop in the esophagus, which can break open and cause heavy bleeding.

Fluid often accumulates in the abdomen (ascites), and brain function can also be impaired (hepatic encephalopathy). If liver cirrhosis is detected early, secondary diseases can be avoided in many cases or their occurrence can be delayed. Without treatment, the disease leads to liver failure. Jaundice, severe weight loss, nausea and upper abdominal pain are evident in the advanced stage of liver cancer.

If the organ can no longer adequately fulfill its detoxification function, toxins get into the brain and damage the brain cells, which becomes noticeable through impaired consciousness and personality changes. In the worst case, the gradual poisoning of the body leads to liver coma or kidney failure. Another complication of liver cancer is metastasis to other organs or the skeletal system.

Some autoimmune liver diseases are associated with inflammation of the bile ducts, which can lead to the development of cholangiocarcinoma. The surgical removal of part of the damaged liver carries the risk of secondary bleeding or infection. After a liver transplant, rejection reactions, thrombosis or narrowing of the bile ducts can occur.

When should you go to the doctor?

If you experience health problems after eating or drinking, you should see a doctor. People who experience acute impairment of their well-being after consuming tap water are particularly at risk. In these cases, copper pipes are often laid in which the tap water is transported. If you experience drowsiness, concentration problems, inner restlessness or a drop in performance, you need to see a doctor. Changes in the complexion, rashes, itching or redness are indications that must be clarified by a doctor.

If the symptoms gradually increase over several weeks, a doctor should be consulted. A doctor should be consulted in the event of fluctuations in blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmias, a general feeling of illness or an inner weakness. If there are problems with memory activity, if the person concerned experiences bouts of anxiety or sudden sweating, they need medical care.

Signs such as nausea, vomiting, tiredness or exhaustion should be examined and treated by a doctor if they occur repeatedly over several days. If the symptoms are severe, it is advisable to see a doctor immediately. In severe cases, mental disorders, respiratory diseases or organ damage occur. A doctor should therefore be consulted in good time in the event of persistent mood swings, breathing problems or functional disorders.

Treatment & Therapy

Heavy metal poisoning is very important in conventional medicine. Copper poisoning in particular is one of the most common heavy metal poisonings, so that great attention is paid to making a correct diagnosis and then to a promising treatment. However, there are already numerous alternative medical treatments that also specialize in heavy metal or copper poisoning.

There are currently various forms of therapy for copper poisoning, which are mainly carried out when there is a clear diagnosis. It is important that the doctor is sure that the heavy metal poisoning is caused by copper and that there is no other illness that is sometimes responsible for the symptoms. If there is no other suspicion of an illness, but the doctor is convinced that the poisoning is caused by copper, chelation treatment is used.

That treatment ensures that the copper – and other heavy metals – are bound in the body by DMPS and EDTA. The chelation treatment is also one of the gentlest applications that can be carried out as part of the treatment of copper poisoning. Care is taken to ensure that the treatment ensures that the copper is “conducted” out of the body. If there is acute poisoning, for example, treatment must be carried out very quickly.

This is because the doctor must ensure that all vital organs remain stable and that there is no danger to life. As part of the chelation treatment, there is also treatment with oral antidotes. Sometimes activated charcoal can also be administered; Antidotes and activated charcoal are among the so-called absorption agents. Subsequently, the physicians also perform gastric lavage . Sometimes, however, the blood wash can also lead to the copper being “flushed out”. The so-called hemoperfusion can be compared to the dialysis procedure; the principle of “blood purification” is ultimately the same as in dialysis.

Outlook & Forecast

Copper poisoning needs to be treated quickly. If left untreated, the condition can lead to organ diseases such as cirrhosis of the liver and tubular kidney disorders. If the heavy metal poisoning is treated comprehensively, the prognosis is generally good. The copper can be flushed out with the help of suitable medication. Any symptoms such as itchy skin or leukocytosis can be treated symptomatically. The patient should be fit again after a few weeks. The quality of life is not affected by a short-term excess of copper in the body. Life expectancy is also not reduced.

If copper poisoning is recognized too late, chronic diseases may have already developed. There is then no longer any prospect of a full recovery. Liver, kidney and heart diseases require long-term drug treatment. In addition, psychological complaints such as chronic exhaustion or mood swings can develop, which also impair well-being. If there is a genetic disposition, an excess of heavy metal favors the development of autism and schizophrenia. A predisposition to excess copper, such as that found in epigenetic disorders, can usually only be treated symptomatically. Patients require close medical supervision so that any symptoms can be treated at an early stage.


Copper poisoning can usually be avoided. It is important that the heavy metal is not absorbed or that – if copper pipes are laid in one’s own house – they should be replaced. So you can assume to prevent copper poisoning.


Follow-up care is primarily aimed at preventing the disease from recurring. In the case of copper poisoning, the patient is responsible for this because the risk stems from his everyday life. He should make sure that heavy metal is not ingested through food. Copper pipes laid in the house often pose a risk if drinking water is drunk from them.

These should be renewed as a precaution. A doctor imparts relevant knowledge as part of initial therapy. However, the responsibility for the implementation of the instructions lies with the patient. If copper poisoning was diagnosed late, chronic secondary diseases usually developed. These must be treated as part of the aftercare. The patient may need support in his everyday life.

The type of scheduled follow-up examinations depends on the respective symptoms. Medication is regularly administered to alleviate the condition. Damage to the kidneys or liver leads to recurring examinations using imaging methods. Long-term psychological damage can also result from copper poisoning. Psychotherapy can help in this case.

Complications can be eliminated by starting treatment early. Complaints then only exist for a short time. Since there are no longer any signs of copper poisoning, follow-up care is no longer necessary in this case. The patient can go on with his normal life.

You can do that yourself

If copper poisoning is suspected, the first step is to call the poison control center or the emergency services. First aid must be given before medical help arrives . The person concerned should therefore be sedated and closely observed – resuscitation measures may have to be carried out in the event of respiratory and circulatory problems.

As soon as the doctor arrives, he must be informed about the circumstances of the poisoning. Since copper poisoning usually develops over a longer period of time before it leads to collapse, a clarification in the hospital is necessary in any case. Thereafter, protection applies to the person concerned. Depending on what the doctor suggests, the diet should also be changed. Laxative foods can help the copper residues to be flushed out, but medicinal preparations are more effective. In general, care should be taken to ensure a gentle diet .

At the same time, the trigger for the poisoning must be determined. The tap water at the place of residence is best subjected to a test. If there is a concrete suspicion, certain foods can be taken to the laboratory where the copper content is measured. In any case, renewed intake of large amounts of copper must be avoided.

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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.