Home > Patients & Visitors > Health Library > 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:
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.
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 proper technique.
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 reference values listed here are just a guide. These ranges vary from lab to lab. Your lab report should contain the range your lab uses. Also, your doctor will evaluate your results based on your health and other things. This means that a value that falls outside the reference values listed here may still be okay for you.
Results are usually available within 1 week.
Your doctor will likely want to do more evaluation and another blood lead level test if:footnote 1, footnote 2
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.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2012). Announcement: Response to the Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention report, low level lead exposure harms children: A renewed call for primary prevention. MMWR, 61(20): 383. Also available online: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6120a6.htm?s_cid=mm6120a6_w.
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.
Current as ofMarch 27, 2018
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: John Pope, MD, MPH - PediatricsE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal MedicineKathleen Romito, MD - Family MedicineR. Steven Tharratt, MD, FACP, FCCP - Pulmonology, Critical Care Medicine
Current as of:
March 27, 2018
Medical Review:John Pope, MD, MPH - Pediatrics & E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & R. Steven Tharratt, MD, FACP, FCCP - Pulmonology, Critical Care Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2018 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
Our interactive Decision Points guide you through making key health decisions by combining medical information with your personal information.
You'll find Decision Points to help you answer questions about:
Get started learning more about your health!
Our Interactive Tools can help you make smart decisions for a healthier life. You'll find personal calculators and tools for health and fitness, lifestyle checkups and pregnancy.
Feeling under the weather?
Use our interactive symptom checker to evaluate your symptoms and determine appropriate action or treatment.