Ankle Lead Arthropathy and Systemic Lead Toxicity Secondary to a Gunshot Wound After 49 Years: A Case Report

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Intra-articular bullet wounds have been found to cause both local and systemic consequences, in particular, when retained over many years. Only a few such cases have been described in published reports, each with different implications, depending on the joint involved and whether the patient experienced lead toxicity. We report the rare case of a 63-year-old male with lead arthropathy of the ankle secondary to a gunshot wound 49 years earlier. In addition to his severe tibiotalar arthritis, he presented with significantly elevated blood lead levels. Although he remained asymptomatic of lead toxicity, the patient was treated with preoperative chelator therapy and arthroscopic debridement, excision of accessible bullet fragments, and partial synovectomy to alleviate his ankle pain. However, he continued to experience ankle pain, and his blood lead levels remained elevated. He, therefore, underwent arthroscopic ankle arthrodesis with preoperative chelator therapy to prevent a further increase in blood lead levels secondary to surgical manipulation. Although lead arthropathy and toxicity secondary to retained intra-articular bullets has been documented in various joints during the past decades, to the best of our knowledge, the present case is the first adult case of an affected ankle reported in published English studies in 40 years. The standard of care has evolved since then, in particular, in regard to chelator therapy and the necessity for removal of intra-articular lead fragments to prevent further lead toxicity. The present case serves as an example of lead arthropathy of the ankle and highlights the importance of balancing the standard of care with symptomatic care to optimize patient well-being.

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