Mercury Poisoning

John Whyte, MD

,
Douglas P. Beall, MD

A minimally responsive 26-year-old man was brought to the emergency department after being found in his home by a friend. A suicide note lay next to his body. The patient had a history of depression.

A minimally responsive 26-year-old man was brought to the emergency department after being found in his home by a friend. A suicide note lay next to his body. The patient had a history of depression.

Drs John Whyte of Washington, DC, and Douglas P. Beall of Oklahoma City, Okla, noted that the patient was lethargic with decreased respirations. Multiple metallic densities scattered throughout the lungs were evident on an anterior chest film (A, yellow arrows) and a lateral view (B, yellow arrows). Densities overlying the heart (A and B, red arrows) and the superior mediastinum (A, black arrow) were also seen. These findings are consistent with the presence of mercury within the right ventricle.

The patient's note revealed that he had injected himself with approximately 10 mL of mercury obtained from thermometers and an old thermostat. He had harvested the mercury, placed the liquid into a syringe, and injected it into an antecubital vein.

The main complication of acute mercury poisoning is renal failure; the patient underwent chelation therapy and received supportive care. He was discharged from the hospital 10 days after admission and referred for outpatient psychiatric therapy. The patient experienced no long-lasting sequelae from the mercury poisoning.