While there has been research into the relationship between blood lead (BPb) level and mental disorders, there have been few investigations that use clinically diagnosed mental disorders in the adult population with a retrospective cohort study design. Hence, our study investigated the association between BPb level and risk of clinically diagnosed mental disorders.
The data of male workers exposed to lead (Pb; n = 54,788) were collected from annual Pb associated medical check-ups from 2000 to 2004 in Korea. The workers’ hospital admission histories due to mental disorders (International Classification of Diseases, 10th revision, F00–F99) were used to identify clinically diagnosed mental disorders. After merging the data, the hazard ratio (HR) with a 95% confidence interval (95% CI) was calculated by survival analysis using the Cox proportional hazards model according to the quartile level of BPb (1st quartile < 4.10 μg/dl, 2nd quartile < 6.04 μg/dl, 3rd quartile < 10.00 μg/dl, and 4th quartile ≥ 10 μg/dl).
In a total of 54,788 workers, there were 223 admission cases of mental disorders (F00–F99) during the follow-up period. The HR (95% CI) of total mental and behavioural disorders (F00–F99) was 1.63 (1.12–2.39) in the 4th quartile group compared to the HR of the 1st quartile group after adjusting for age. The HR (95% CI) of the 4th quartile group was 2.59 (1.15–5.82) for mood (affective) disorders (F30–F39).
Our study highlighted that Pb exposure can cause clinical mental disorders that require hospital admission in adult male workers. Our relatively large sample size strengthens the evidence of the association between BPb level and risk of clinically diagnosed mental disorders.
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