Thallium Toxicity Treatment & Management

Updated: Dec 12, 2021
  • Author: David Vearrier, MD, MPH; Chief Editor: Sage W Wiener, MD  more...
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Prehospital Care

The prehospital treatment should focus on the following 4 areas:

  1. Stabilizing acute life-threatening conditions
  2. Initiating supportive therapy
  3. Identifying the time and route of exposure
  4. Beginning the decontamination process

Perform the following:

  • Assess airway, breathing, and circulation (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. [21]
  • Activated charcoal (0.5 - 1 g/kg) should be administered in patients with 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. Medical personnel should 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 may be useful, especially when radiopaque material is visualized on an abdominal radiograph.

Although both Prussian blue and activated charcoal adsorb thallium, Prussian blue appears to have adsorptive 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. An initial dose of 3 g orally may be followed by 250 mg/kg/day divided into four doses. [30]

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 excretion into the gut lumen. This interrupts the enterohepatic recirculation of thallium 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), which does not present a safety concern. [31]

Prussian blue (Radiogardase) was approved by the US 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/TS) in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. In addition, successful therapy using the laboratory reagent form of Prussian blue has been documented in the United States. [30, 32]

Multi-dose activated charcoal has been demonstrated to be effective, in animal model studies, in increasing fecal elimination of thallium. Because thallium undergoes enterohepatic and enteroenteric recirculation, repeated charcoal administration (0.25-0.5 g/kg q2-4h) may enhance fecal elimination. Multi-dose activated charcoal should be administered to patients if Prussian blue is not immediately available. 

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. [33, 34, 35]

The following are not recommended:

  • 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.
  • N-acetylcysteine and l-cysteine have not been shown to be effective in reducing mortality in animal models.

Admit all patients with significant signs and symptoms of thallium toxicity. Initially measure thallium concentrations in the urine 3 times per week to confirm a decreasing trend. Prussian blue treatment should be continued until the 24-hour urine thallium concentration returns to the reference range (0-5 mcg/d).  [32]

Thallotoxicosis also is associated with a severe form of stomatitis, so mouth hygiene should be closely monitored. Shaving the patient's head may reduce the stress induced by hair loss and improve the patient's morale. Physical therapy may be instituted to prevent development of muscle contractures. Consider transferring patients with severe signs and symptoms if a medical toxicologist is not readily available.

Patients with unintentional intoxication who are asymptomatic with a minimal increase in urine thallium level may be discharged with close follow-up care. Patients with intentional ingestions should have a psychiatric evaluation before discharge from the hospital.



Consultation with a regional poison control center or medical toxicologist may be of benefit.