Exposure to high concentrations of lead during pregnancy may result in adverse outcomes including spontaneous abortion, impaired intrauterine growth, premature rupture of the membranes and/or preterm labour, reduced infant head circumference, and impaired neurodevelopment in the child. However, these risks have not been clearly quantified.
It is important that the source of lead exposure is identified and the risk of further exposure minimised. Iron and calcium deficiency should be corrected.
Current National Poisons Information Service (NPIS) advice is that all adults with a blood lead concentration of ≥50 micrograms/dL should be considered for chelation therapy. This includes women who are pregnant. There are very small numbers of published cases on which to base an assessment of the safety of chelating agents in pregnancy, with no data at all on first trimester use for any. However, because of the risks associated with severe maternal lead poisoning, the benefits of chelation are likely to outweigh any potential risks to the fetus. The NPIS currently advises use of sodium calcium edetate in non-pregnant individuals with blood lead concentration ≥50 micrograms/dL. There is slightly more information on use of sodium calcium edetate in human pregnancy (five case reports) than other chelating agents, however use of DMSA (two case reports, both involve use after the first trimester) is an alternative.
In theory, maternal chelation therapy may reduce fetal lead exposure and consequent adverse fetal effects, but there is also a theoretical risk that it could result in mobilisation of lead from the mother into fetal tissue and is therefore not routinely recommended where maternal blood lead concentration is <50 micrograms/dL. Available data indicate that maternal chelation therapy has a limited effect on the fetal blood lead concentration and additional neonatal chelation is often required.
UKTIS should be contacted directly to discuss the treatment of any pregnant patient, including those with lead levels of <50 micrograms/dL.
Exposure to lead chelating treatments at any stage in pregnancy would not usually be regarded as medical grounds for termination of pregnancy. Monitoring of fetal growth may be advisable following maternal exposure to lead. Other risk factors may also be present in individual cases which may independently increase the risk of adverse pregnancy outcome. Clinicians are reminded of the importance of consideration of such factors when performing case-specific risk assessments
This is a summary of the full UKTIS monograph for health care professionals and should not be used in isolation. The full UKTIS monograph and access to any hyperlinked related documents is available to NHS health care professionals who are logged in.
If you have a patient with exposure to a drug or chemical and require assistance in making a patient-specific risk assessment, please telephone UKTIS on 0344 892 0909 to discuss the case with a teratology specialist.
If you would like to report a pregnancy to UKTIS please click here to download our pregnancy reporting form. Please encourage all women to complete an online reporting form.