Skeletal fluorosis, Sri Lanka

Hewavithana PB, Jayawardhane WM, Gamage R, Goonaratna C. Skeletal fluorosis in Vavuniya District: an observational study. The Ceylon medical journal. 2018 Sep 30;63(3):139-142.

BACKGROUND: The WHO recommended safe upper limit for fluoride in drinking water is 1.5 mg/l. Groundwater sources in many parts of Sri Lanka often exceed this limit. The high fluoride content of groundwater and high environmental temperatures in Vavuniya District predispose to pre-skeletal fluorosis and skeletal fluorosis in adults.

OBJECTIVES: To identify residents of Vavuniya District with clinical features of pre-skeletal and skeletal fluorosis; to describe their clinical, biochemical and radiographic features; to determine the fluoride content of blood and urine in individuals with established diagnoses, and of their drinking water.

METHODS: In 98 volunteers we detected 60 with clinical features of pre-skeletal and skeletal fluorosis. Clinical examination, biochemical and radiographic investigations were performed. Forty four with confounding factors were excluded. The balance 16 had radiographic investigation for fluoride bone disease, and assessment of clinical features for pre-skeletal fluorosis. The radiographic criteria of skeletal fluorosis were trabecular haziness, osteosclerosis, osteophytes, cortical thickening and ligamentous or muscle attachment ossification. All 16 had “spot” samples of 15 ml of venous blood taken for biochemical tests and fluoride estimation; and 30 ml of urine, and water from 16 dug wells for fluoride.

RESULTS: The 16 selected (11 males) had BMI between 20.6 and 31.9 kg/m2, and were between 22 and 84 years (x̅ = 59.9 + 20.4). They used water from domestic dug wells for drinking. All had adequate renal function. All serum and urine samples had raised fluoride levels way above the reference ranges for serum (0.02 – 0.18 mg/l) and urine (0.6 – 2.0 mg/l). The 16 water samples showed a mean fluoride content of 2.90 +0.93 mg/l.

INTERPRETATION: In a cohort of 60 individuals in Vavuniya with symptoms suggestive of skeletal fluoride toxicity, 6 had skeletal fluorosis, 10 had pre-skeletal fluorosis, and groundwater sources had fluoride levels much higher than WHO recommended upper limit for drinking water. Residents in Vavuniya are predisposed to pre-skeletal and skeletal fluorosis. All 16 had been misdiagnosed as various types of arthritis.

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