Chelation therapy is used to remove poisons, also called toxins, from the body. The most common and proven use is for poisoning with a heavy metal, such as lead.
Who is a candidate for the procedure?
Healthcare professionals use this procedure when there are high levels of certain toxins in the body.
Toxins that may be treated with this procedure include:
copper, which may build up when a person has the inherited condition called Wilson disease
iron, which may build up in the body if a person has many blood transfusions or has a hereditary condition such as hemochromatosis or hemosiderosis
Before a healthcare professional decides to do chelation therapy, he or she will ask about the person's medical and family history and examine the individual for signs of heavy metal toxicity and for other associated conditions.
The following tests may also be helpful:
Other tests may also be used in certain settings.
Research has been conducted to look for evidence that chelation therapy might be useful in treating coronary artery disease or atherosclerosis. The idea has been to see if the chelation agent might bind the calcium that forms part of the atherosclerotic plaque. The results of a clinical trial were published in 2002 showing no benefit. The American Medical Association, American Heart Association, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration concur that chelation therapy has no place in the treatment of atherosclerosis.
The risks for intravenous chelation for any use other than heavy metal poisoning (or, for that matter, any use of oral chelation) are not appropriate based upon there being no evidence effectiveness. In fact, the evidence against chelation for heart disease or atherosclerosis is so clear, that the provision of the treatment raises serious ethical questions—especially in light of the fact that the charges for the therapy are very high and it is very lucrative for those providing the service.
How is the procedure performed?
There are several chelators in use, including the following:
Any of these can be given through an intravenous line (IV), or by mouth. If an IV infusion is needed, the procedure usually takes place in a clinic or in the doctor's office. Sometimes, a person may need to be in the hospital, such as in cases of severe lead poisoning. A person can usually choose to sit or lie down. Next, an IV is started in a vein in the arm or hand. The chelator is mixed with fluids and slowly infused into the body.
While the IV is running, a person can relax, sleep, or do other quiet activities. Most sessions last a few hours, though some may be shorter or longer. The session is usually painless. Those who choose a pill form can take the pill at home just like any other medicine.
The total number of treatments given depends on the person's health and needs. For instance, those with a one-time poisoning may only need a few treatments, while an individual with Wilson disease often needs treatment for life.
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