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Thallium Toxicity Treatment & Management

  • Author: Chip Gresham, MD, FACEM; Chief Editor: Asim Tarabar, MD  more...
Updated: Apr 23, 2014

Prehospital Care

The prehospital treatment should focus on 4 areas: (1) stabilizing acute life-threatening conditions, (2) initiating supportive therapy, (3) identifying the time and route of exposure, and (4) beginning the decontamination process.

  • Establish ABCs.
  • Administer oxygen as needed.
  • Obtain intravenous access.
  • Remove contaminated clothing as soon as possible. Avoid self-exposure and wear protective clothing that is appropriate to the type and degree of contamination. Wear air-purifying or supplied-air respiratory equipment as necessary.
  • Activated charcoal should be considered in patients presenting within 1 hour of ingestion and have an intact or protected airway.

Emergency Department Care

The goals of treating a patient with thallium toxicity are initial stabilization, prevention of absorption, enhanced elimination, and antidotal therapy.

  • Following the initial assessment and stabilization of the patient, if not performed in the prehospital setting, remove contaminated clothing while avoiding self-exposure. With dermal exposure, thoroughly wash exposed skin with soap and water. For eye exposure, irrigate exposed eyes with copious amounts of room temperature water for at least 15 minutes. Be sure to wear protective clothing appropriate to the type and degree of contamination.
  • Gastrointestinal decontamination, activated charcoal, and Prussian blue (potassium ferric hexacyanoferrate) are recommended in thallium ingestions.
  • Consider orogastric lavage in patients presenting within 1 hour postingestion if they have not vomited or if thallium is observed in the stomach on radiographs in patients who have vomited. In addition, whole-bowel irrigation with polyethylene glycol electrolyte lavage solution may be useful, especially when radiopaque material is visualized on an abdominal radiograph.
  • Although both Prussian blue and activated charcoal absorb thallium, it appears that Prussian blue has absorptive superiority. In addition, because it has a far better safety profile than other proposed therapies, Prussian blue should be considered the drug of choice in acute thallium poisoning.[24]
  • Prussian blue is a crystal blue lattice of potassium ferric ferrocyanide. It acts as an ion exchanger for univalent cations, with its affinity increasing as the ionic radius of the cation increases. Prussian blue exchanges potassium ions from its lattice with thallium ions in the gut lumen. Removal of thallium from the gut creates a concentration gradient causing an increase in thallium exchange into the gut lumen. This interrupts its enterohepatic recirculation and increases its elimination. Prussian blue releases a negligible amount of cyanide (< 1.6 mg, minimal lethal dose of cyanide in humans is approximately 50 mg) and does not present a safety concern following its use.[25]
  • Prussian blue (Radiogardase) was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2003 but is still difficult to obtain for pharmaceutical use in the United States. However, it has been obtained from The Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education and the Radiation Emergency Assistance Center (REAC) in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. In addition, successful therapy using the laboratory reagent of Prussian blue has been documented in the United States.[24, 26]
  • In patients in whom Prussian blue cannot be obtained and thallium poisoning is suspected, multidose activated charcoal may be effective. Because thallium undergoes enterohepatic and enteroenteric recirculation, repeated charcoal administration (0.25-0.5 g/kg q2-4h) may enhance fecal elimination.
  • Forced diuresis with potassium loading was previously recommended to increase the renal clearance of thallium, but this may exacerbate the neurologic and cardiovascular symptoms and is no longer advised.
  • Chelating agents such as EDTA, dimercaprol, and D-penicillamine have not been shown to be effective and should be avoided.
  • The usefulness of hemodialysis and hemoperfusion is controversial, but they may be useful during early thallium poisoning before extensive distribution within the body tissues has occurred.[27, 28, 29]
  • N -acetylcysteine and l-cysteine have not been shown to be effective in reducing mortality in animal models.


See the list below:

  • Consultation with a regional poison control center or medical toxicologist may be of benefit.
Contributor Information and Disclosures

Chip Gresham, MD, FACEM Emergency Medicine Physician and Medical Toxicologist, Department of Emergency Medicine, Clinical Director of Medication Safety, Middlemore Hospital; Senior Lecturer, Auckland University Medical School, New Zealand

Chip Gresham, MD, FACEM is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Emergency Physicians, American College of Medical Toxicology, Society for Academic Emergency Medicine, Emergency Medicine Residents' Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Emma A Lawrey, MBChB, Dip Paeds, PG Cert ClinEd, FACEM Emergency Medicine Consultant and Clinical Toxicology Fellow, Department of Emergency Medicine, Middlemore Hospital, New Zealand

Emma A Lawrey, MBChB, Dip Paeds, PG Cert ClinEd, FACEM is a member of the following medical societies: Australasian College for Emergency Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

John G Benitez, MD, MPH Associate Professor, Department of Medicine, Medical Toxicology, Vanderbilt University Medical Center; Managing Director, Tennessee Poison Center

John G Benitez, MD, MPH is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Clinical Toxicology, American Academy of Emergency Medicine, American College of Medical Toxicology, American College of Preventive Medicine, Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society, Wilderness Medical Society, American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Asim Tarabar, MD Assistant Professor, Director, Medical Toxicology, Department of Emergency Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine; Consulting Staff, Department of Emergency Medicine, Yale-New Haven Hospital

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

William K Chiang, MD Associate Professor, Department of Emergency Medicine, New York University School of Medicine; Chief of Service, Department of Emergency Medicine, Bellevue Hospital Center

William K Chiang, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Clinical Toxicology, American College of Medical Toxicology, Society for Academic Emergency Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Mary L Arvanitis, DO, FACOEP Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Emergency Medicine, Michigan State University, College of Human Medicine; Consulting Staff, Department of Emergency Medicine, Covenant Hospital; Director, Osteopathic Medical Education, Synergy Medical Education Alliance

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Igor Boyarsky, DO Emergency Room Physician, Kaiser Permanente Southern California

Igor Boyarsky, DO is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine, American Academy of Emergency Medicine, American College of Emergency Physicians, and American Osteopathic Assocation

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Adrian D Crisan, MD Staff Physician, Department of Emergency Medicine, Martin Luther King Jr/Drew Medical Center

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

G Patrick Daubert, MD Assistant Professor, Assistant Medical Director, Sacramento Division, California Poison Control System; Director of Clinical and Medical Toxicology Education, Department of Emergency Medicine, University of California, Davis Medical Center

G Patrick Daubert, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Emergency Physicians, American College of Medical Toxicology, American Medical Association, and Society for Academic Emergency Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Wendy R Regal, MD Clinical Instructor, Department of Emergency Medicine, Synergy Medical Education Alliance, Michigan State University

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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