Lead levels - blood

What are Blood Lead Levels?

Blood lead levels measure the amount of lead that has accumulated in the blood. Lead occurs naturally in the environment and can also be acquired through exposure to lead-containing products such as paint, gasoline, batteries and plumbing materials. Too much lead in the body can lead to various types of sickness and diseases, including anemia, organ damage, joint and muscle pain and neurological problems.

How is a Lead Blood Test Performed?

A lead blood test is a simple process that only requires a few drops of blood. The blood sample is collected from a vein in your arm and is sent to a laboratory for testing. The test measures the amount of lead in the blood, as well as any other metals that may be present. The results will indicate if the level is higher than normal and if any treatment is needed.

Types of Lead Tests

There are two types of lead tests that can be used to determine blood lead levels:

  • The venous test uses a small amount of blood taken from a vein in the arm.
  • The capillary test uses a few drops of blood collected from a finger prick.

What are “Normal” Blood Lead Levels?

Blood lead levels differ for adults and children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recognize the following “normal” levels:

  • Adults: Less than 10 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL) of lead.
  • Children: Less than 5 mcg/dL of lead.

What are the Risks of High Lead Levels?

High levels of lead can be dangerous and can cause health issues such as:

  • Neurological problems
  • Anemia
  • Organ damage
  • Learning and developmental delays
  • Behavioral problems

When to Have a Lead Test?

Lead testing is especially important for children and those who work in professions that are exposed to lead, such as construction workers or plumbing specialists. People who are at risk for lead poisoning and who display any signs and symptoms of lead exposure should also consider getting tested.

What Are the Treatment Options for High Lead Levels?

Treatment options for high lead levels vary depending on the severity of the condition and the amount of lead in the system. Generally, it is important for individuals to avoid any additional exposure to lead. Treatment may also include chelation therapy, which is a medication that binds to the lead in the blood and helps to remove it from the body. In extreme cases, surgery may be necessary to remove the source of lead contamination.