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
There is no safe age to be exposed to lead. Adults can have
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
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.
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).
mcg/dL or less than 0.48
10–14 mcg/dL or 0.48–0.68
Hearing problems, slowed growth,
15–19 mcg/dL or 0.70–0.96
20–44 mcg/dL or 0.97–2.1 mcmol/L
Headache, weight loss, nervous system
45–69 mcg/dL or 2.17–3.33
Severe stomach cramps, poor production of
red blood cells (anemia), seizures
More than 69 mcg/dL or more than 3.33
Severe brain damage leading to
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.
Fischbach FT, Dunning MB III, eds. (2009). Manual of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests, 8th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Other Works Consulted
Committee 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.
August 8, 2012
John Pope, MD - Pediatrics
& R. Steven Tharratt, MD, MPVM, FACP, FCCP - Pulmonology, Critical Care Medicine, Medical Toxicology
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