Lead Blood Test: What to Expect

If there’s a chance you or your child has been exposed to lead, a simple blood test can show how much, if any, of the element is in your bloodstream. It can give you peace of mind if the levels are low. And if the test results show levels are high, you or your child can start treatment to get the lead out of your system.

Who Should Have a Lead Blood Test?

Lead is a common element. We probably all have at least a little in our system because it’s all around us. But exposure to high amounts of lead can be dangerous. Older homes and buildings where lead-based paint was used are prime sources of lead exposure. So are water pipes that contain lead. Many jobs, like those in factories or those involving car batteries or old home renovations, also present a risk of lead exposure.

Some state and local governments require that all children be tested for lead exposure. The state of New York, for example, requires lead blood tests in children at the age of 1 and then again at 2. Your child’s doctor will ask you about her exposure to lead until she’s about age 6. When there’s concern, your child will be tested again.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the following groups of kids aged 6 months to 6 years old should be considered “high priority” for lead blood testing:

  • Those who live in homes built before 1960 that have undergone or are undergoing renovations
  • Those who often visit homes built before 1960 (to see family, for example)
  • Kids who have siblings, relatives, playmates, or classmates who’ve had lead poisoning
  • Kids with a parent or others in the home whose jobs or hobbies include exposure to lead
  • Children who live near battery recycling plants, active lead smelters, or other places of business that allow lead to be released into the atmosphere

Some doctors believe that kids who spend time in homes, schools, or other buildings built before 1978 should also be tested. That was the year the U.S. government ruled that lead-based paint was no longer allowed for household use.

If you work in a place where you’re at high risk for lead exposure, you should be tested regularly. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set standards for the testing.

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How Is a Lead Blood Test Done?

A nurse will prick your finger and take a small amount of blood. Or, she might draw blood from a vein.

You should get your results within a couple of days. If they’re within the normal range, your doctor will call you with the results. If the test shows high levels that require treatment, she’ll ask you to make an appointment. Lead is removed from the body through a process called chelation. You’re given a special medicine that will bind lead and other heavy metals to it. Over time, the medication and metals are removed from your body through your urine.

What Do the Results Mean?

Lead levels in the blood are measured in micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL). According to the CDC, lead blood levels of 5 mcg/dL are considered higher than a normal or safe level in children. If your child’s blood lead level is 45 mcg/dL or higher, she’ll need treatment to bring the level down. Any elevated test result means your child has been exposed to lead. Try to find the sources of lead exposure in your home or elsewhere in your child’s environment.

In adults, lead blood levels up to 10 mcg/dL are considered normal. Anywhere from 10 to 25 mcg/dL is a sign that you’re regularly exposed to lead. At 80 mcg/dL, you should consider treatment.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on February 26, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

Mayo Clinic: “Lead poisoning: Diagnosis.”

New York State Department of Health: “What Your Child’s Blood Lead Test Means.”

CDC: “Preventing Lead Poisoning in Young Children,” “What Do Parents Need to Know to Protect Your Children?” “Blood Levels in Children.”

KidsHealth: “Blood Test: Lead.”

Occupational Safety and Health Hazard Administration: “Occupational Safety and Health Standards.”

Mayo Clinic: “Lead Poisoning: Treatment.”

New York State Department of Health: “Lead Exposure in Adults: A Guide for Healthcare Providers.”

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