Blood Lead Levels Test

Written by Janelle Martel | Published on July 9, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

Lead Levels – Blood

Lead levels are measured in the body by a blood test. When there is a high level of lead in the body, lead poisoning occurs.

Children and adults who have been exposed to lead, should have their lead levels tested. This is especially harmful to children because it can damage the developing brain, leading to cognitive and intellectual developmental problems.

Who Needs Testing

Because lead poisoning can cause developmental problems and organ damage in children, it is important that children have their lead levels checked when exposure is suspected or local guidelines suggest. It is usually suggested that children are tested between the age of 1 and 3 years old.

According to Lab Tests Online (LTO), local governments often set guidelines for lead testing particular to the risks in that area. Your local health department can tell you when testing is recommended (LTO, 2012).

Adults and children who are at risk for lead poisoning should be tested. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, high-risk groups include (Johns Hopkins Medicine):

  • low-income families
  • African Americans
  • Mexican-Americans
  • living in large metropolitan areas
  • living in older homes, especially homes that were built before 1978

Exposure to certain materials also increases the risk of lead poisoning. Individuals who have been exposed to lead should be tested. Sources of lead exposure include:

  • soil and water exposed to lead paint, gasoline additives, or lead pipes
  • lead paint and glazes
  • imported cosmetics and costume jewelry
  • contaminated food
  • artificial sports fields
  • folk remedies using azarcon and greta
  • working in smelter facilities
  • working in automotive repair or construction industries

Why Lead Testing Is Done

Lead testing is done to check for lead poisoning. In the early stages, lead poisoning typically does not cause symptoms, which is why routine testing is necessary in children and adults exposed to lead. Lead poisoning in children can cause:

  • brain and nervous system damage
  • speech, language, and attention deficits
  • growth failure
  • hearing loss
  • headaches
  • anemia, which is a decrease of red blood cells
  • sleep problems
  • seizures
  • weight loss
  • fatigue
  • abdominal pain and vomiting

In adults, lead poisoning can cause:

  • miscarriage or premature birth
  • infertility
  • headache
  • pain and tingling in the hands and feet
  • muscle and joint pain
  • high blood pressure
  • memory loss
  • seizures
  • coma
  • mood changes
  • changes in mental function

Your doctor may also order a blood test to check your lead levels if you have been previously diagnosed with lead poisoning. This test will be ordered to check that your lead levels are lowering with treatment.

What Happens During the Test

Having your lead levels tested requires a blood test. This test may be performed in your doctor’s office or a medical lab, and may also be called a blood draw or venipuncture.

To begin, the technician will clean the area that the blood will be drawn from with an antiseptic to help prevent infection. The blood is usually taken from a vein located on the inside of your elbow or the back of your hand. The technician will tie an elastic band around your upper arm. This is done to cause blood to collect in the vein, making it easier to draw blood.

He or she will insert a sterile needle into your vein and begin drawing blood. The elastic band will be removed from your arm. When the technician is done drawing blood, he or she will remove the needle. A bandage will be applied to the wound and you will be asked to apply pressure. Applying pressure helps to stop the bleeding and prevent bruising. You may continue to feel some throbbing around the wound area, which will go away within a few minutes to a few hours.

Having your blood drawn may cause mild to moderate pain. Most individuals report a burning or pricking sensation. Relaxing your arm while having your blood drawn can help reduce the amount of pain you feel.

Your blood sample will be sent to the medical lab to be tested for blood.

Risks of Lead Levels Testing

The risk of having your blood drawn is low. However, problems occur rarely. Possible risks include:

  • multiple puncture wounds due to trouble finding a vein
  • excessive bleeding
  • feeling light-headed or fainting
  • hematoma, which is a collection of blood under the skin
  • infection
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