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Poisoning (cont.)

Poisoning Diagnosis

A combination of history, physical examination, and laboratory studies will help reveal the cause of most poisonings. Frequently, treatment must begin before all information is available.

History: As a family member or friend of a poisoned person, you can greatly assist the doctor and provide valuable clues by telling the doctor about these details:

  • Everything the person ate or drank recently
  • Names of all prescription and over-the-counter medications the person is taking
  • Exposure to chemicals at home or at work
  • Whether others in the family or at work have been similarly ill or exposed
  • Whether the person has any psychiatric history to suggest an intentional ingestion (suicide attempt)

Testing: Many poisons can be detected in the blood or urine. However, a physician cannot order "every test in the book" when the diagnosis is unclear. The tests ordered will be based on information revealed in the history and physical exam.

  • A toxicology screen or "tox" screen looks for common drugs of abuse. Most toxicology screens will detect:
  • A specific blood test will give serum levels of some drugs, including phenytoin (Dilantin), theophylline (Theo-Dur, Respbid, Slo-Bid, Theo-24, Theolair, Uniphyl, Slo-Phyllin), digoxin (Lanoxin), lithium (Lithobid), and acetaminophen.
  • Some drugs affect the electrical activity of the heart. An electrocardiogram (ECG) may reveal toxicity.
  • Sometimes a person is unconscious for no obvious reason. A CT scan of the brain will help tell if there has been a structural change in the brain, such as a stroke.

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Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Food Poisoning »

Food poisoning is defined as an illness caused by the consumption of food or water contaminated with bacteria and/or their toxins, parasites, viruses, or chemicals.

Read More on Medscape Reference »


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