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Lead

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:

  • By eating or drinking lead-contaminated foods, water, or other material (such as paint chips).
  • By breathing dust or smoke containing lead.
  • Through skin contact with 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.

Why It Is Done

A lead blood test is done to:

  • Diagnose lead poisoning.
  • See how well treatment for lead poisoning is working.
  • Look for lead poisoning in people who work with lead or lead products or live in places where the chance of poisoning is high, such as in a large city.
  • Check the amount of lead in people who live with or play with children who have lead poisoning.

How To Prepare

No special preparation is required before having this test.

Be sure to tell your doctor if you are using any herbal medicines.

How It Is Done

Blood tests for lead should be done by a lab experienced in proper technique.

Blood sample from a heel stick

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.

Blood sample from a vein

The health professional taking a sample of your blood will:

  • Wrap an elastic band around your upper arm to stop the flow of blood. This makes the veins below the band larger so it is easier to put a needle into the vein.
  • Clean the needle site with alcohol.
  • Put the needle into the vein. More than one needle stick may be needed.
  • Attach a tube to the needle to fill it with blood.
  • Remove the band from your arm when enough blood is collected.
  • Put a gauze pad or cotton ball over the needle site as the needle is removed.
  • Put pressure on the site and then put on a bandage.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: July 26, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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