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This test measures the amount of lead in a person's blood. Lead is a poisonous (toxic) metal that can damage the brain and other parts of the body. A lead test may be done on blood drawn from the vein, a finger (finger stick), or the heel (heel stick).
A person can be exposed to lead:
There is no safe age to be exposed to lead. Adults can have problems from lead poisoning, but it is most harmful to children younger than age 6 (especially those younger than age 3) because it can permanently affect their growth and development. A pregnant woman who is exposed to lead can pass it to her baby (fetus). Lead can also be passed to a baby through the mother's breast milk.
A lead blood test is done to:
No special preparation is required before having this test.
Be sure to tell your doctor if you are using any herbal medicines.
Blood tests for lead should be done by a lab experienced in proper technique.
For a heel stick blood sample, several drops of blood are collected from the heel of your baby. The skin of the heel is first cleaned with alcohol and then punctured with a small sterile lancet. Several drops of blood are collected in a small tube. When enough blood has been collected, a gauze pad or cotton ball is placed over the puncture site. Pressure is maintained on the puncture site briefly, and then a small bandage is usually applied.
A heel stick must be done carefully to prevent contamination of the sample from lead on the skin. If a heel stick blood sample comes back positive for lead, a sample of blood from your baby's vein will be tested to confirm the results.
The health professional taking a sample of your blood will:
A brief pain, like a sting or a pinch, is usually felt when the lancet punctures the skin. Your baby may feel a little discomfort with the skin puncture.
The blood sample is taken from a vein in your arm. An elastic band is wrapped around your upper arm. It may feel tight. You may feel nothing at all from the needle, or you may feel a quick sting or pinch.
There is very little chance of a problem from a heel stick. A small bruise may develop at the site.
There is very little chance of a problem from having a blood sample taken from a vein.
This test measures the amount of lead in the blood. Lead is a poisonous (toxic) metal that can damage the brain and other parts of the body. A small amount is present in most people.
The normal values listed here—called a reference range—are just a guide. These ranges vary from lab to lab, and your lab may have a different range for what's normal. Your lab report should contain the range your lab uses. Also, your doctor will evaluate your results based on your health and other factors. This means that a value that falls outside the normal values listed here may still be normal for you or your lab.
Results are usually available within 1 week.
0–10 micrograms per decilitre (mcg/dL) or less than 0.48 micromoles per litre (mcmol/L)
If your blood test result is 10 mcg/dL or higher, your doctor will want you to have another blood test. How soon you will be retested is based on the results of your first test. If the result is only slightly high, you may be retested in a month. If it is very high, your doctor may want to repeat the test within a few days.
There are five classes of lead levels, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These levels range from class 1 (no lead poisoning, or less than 10 mcg/dL) to class 5 (a medical emergency of at least 70 mcg/dL).
Blood lead level
Possible effects in children
1–9 mcg/dL or less than 0.48 mcmol/L
10–14 mcg/dL or 0.48–0.68 mcmol/L
Hearing problems, slowed growth, learning problems
15–19 mcg/dL or 0.70–0.96 mcmol/L
20–44 mcg/dL or 0.97–2.1 mcmol/L
Headache, weight loss, nervous system problems
45–69 mcg/dL or 2.17–3.33 mcmol/L
Severe stomach cramps, poor production of red blood cells (anemia), seizures
More than 69 mcg/dL or more than 3.33 mcmol/L
Severe brain damage leading to death
You may not be able to have the test or the results may not be helpful if your skin is contaminated with lead. Low levels of lead can be found almost anywhere, including on the skin.
CitationsFischbach FT, Dunning MB III, eds. (2009). Manual of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests, 8th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.Other Works ConsultedCommittee on Environmental Health, American Academy of Pediatrics (2005, reaffirmed 2009). Lead exposure in children: Prevention, detection, and management. Pediatrics, 116: 1036–1046. Also available online: http://www.pediatrics.org/cgi/content/full/116/4/1036.
Current as of: May 27, 2020
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: John Pope MD - PediatricsBrian D. O'Brien MD - Internal MedicineE. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal MedicineAdam Husney MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineR. Steven Tharratt MD, MPVM, FACP, FCCP - Pulmonology, Critical Care Medicine, Medical Toxicology
Current as of: May 27, 2020
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:John Pope MD - Pediatrics & Brian D. O'Brien MD - Internal Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & R. Steven Tharratt MD, MPVM, FACP, FCCP - Pulmonology, Critical Care Medicine, Medical Toxicology
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