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Barium (Ba)

Barium is a silver-white metal that exists in nature only in ores containing mixtures of various metals. It combines with other chemicals, such as sulfur, carbon, and oxygen, to form barium compounds. Barium compounds are used by the oil and gas industries at drilling sites for drilling lubrication. They are also used to manufacture paints, bricks, ceramics, glass, and rubber. Barium sulfate is used in medicine for medical examinations as radiopaque material in X-rays to visualize the gastrointestinal tract (barium meal and barium enema).

How is one exposed to Barium?
  • Swallowing small quantities of food and water or breathing air containing deficient levels of barium.
  • Living in areas with very high levels of barium in drinking water.
  • As employees in jobs involving the production or use of barium.
  • Living or working near barium waste disposal sites.
How can Barium affect health?

The health effects of various barium compounds depend on how easily they dissolve in water or stomach contents. Barium compounds that do not dissolve well, such as barium sulfate, used as a contrast agent in medicine, are generally not harmful.

Barium can cause gastrointestinal disorders and muscle weakness when people are exposed to levels above what is permitted for relatively short periods. When Barium is present in food and water above permitted levels, consuming it for a short period can lead to vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, increased or decreased blood pressure, facial numbness, and muscle weakness. Eating large quantities of barium compounds that are readily dissolved in water can cause changes in heart rate or paralysis and may result in death. Some of the toxic effects of barium may be due to the inhibition of potassium cell pumps, which are very important for the function of nerve cells. Experimental animals who drank barium water for extended periods showed kidney damage and weight loss, and some died prematurely.

Some heavy metal ions, such as barium, lead, and mercury, inhibit enzymatic reactions because they can bind to the sulfhydryl groups (-SH) that form part of the active center of many enzymes.

Barium is probably not carcinogenic and does not accumulate in tissues.

How can the risk of exposure to Barium be reduced?

The most important sources of exposure to barium are food and drinking water. However, the amount of barium in food and drinking water is usually too small to cause any anxiety.

How can one determine if one has been exposed to Barium?

We can measure barium levels in the blood and most biological materials.

Determination of metals is done by ICP-MS (Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry), a method that enables the simultaneous detection of many metals. Its sensitivity and accuracy are significantly better than conventional atomic absorption, with the ability to measure metals at concentrations up to 1 in 1015 (1 in 1 quadrillion, ppq)!



Important Note

Laboratory test results are the most important parameter for diagnosing and monitoring all pathological conditions. Between 70% and 80% of diagnostic decisions are based on laboratory tests. The correct interpretation of laboratory results allows a doctor to distinguish "healthy" from "diseased."

Laboratory test results should not be interpreted solely based on the numerical result of a single analysis. They should be interpreted in relation to each individual case, family history, clinical findings, and the results of other laboratory tests and information. Your physician should explain the importance of your test results.

At Diagnostiki Athinon, we answer any questions you may have about the test you perform in our laboratory and contact your doctor to ensure you receive the best possible medical care.

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