What is a Heavy Metal Blood Test?
A heavy metal blood test is a group of tests that measure the levels of potentially harmful metals in the blood. The most common metals tested for are lead, mercury, arsenic, and cadmium. Metals that are less commonly tested for include copper, zinc, aluminum, and thallium. Heavy metals are found naturally in the environment, certain foods, medicines, and even in water.
Heavy metals can get in your system in different ways. You might breathe them in, eat them, or absorb them through your skin. If too much metal gets into your body, it can cause heavy metal poisoning. Heavy metal poisoning can lead to serious health problems. These include organ damage, behavioral changes, and difficulties with thinking and memory. The specific symptoms and how it will affect you, depend on the type of metal and how much of it is in your system.
Other names: heavy metals panel, toxic metals, heavy metal toxicity test
What is it used for?
Heavy metal testing is used to find out if you have been exposed to certain metals, and how much of the metal is in your system.
Why do I need a heavy metal blood test?
Your health care provider may order a heavy metal blood test if you have symptoms of heavy metal poisoning. The symptoms depend on the type of metal and how much exposure there was.
Your symptoms may include:
Some children under the age of 6 may need to be tested for lead because they have a higher risk for lead poisoning. Lead poisoning is a very serious type of heavy metal poisoning. It is especially dangerous for children because their brains are still developing, so they are more vulnerable to brain damage from lead poisoning. In the past, lead was frequently used in paint and other household products. It is still used in some products today.
Young children get exposed to lead by touching surfaces with lead, then putting their hands in their mouths. Children living in older houses and/or living in poorer conditions may be at an even higher risk because their environments often contain more lead. Even low levels of lead can cause permanent brain damage and behavioral disorders. Your child’s pediatrician may recommend lead testing for your child, based on your living environment and your child’s symptoms.
What happens during a heavy metal blood test?
A health care professional will take a blood sample from a vein in your arm, using a small needle. After the needle is inserted, a small amount of blood will be collected into a test tube or vial. You may feel a little sting when the needle goes in or out. This usually takes less than five minutes.
Will I need to do anything to prepare for the test?
Some fish and shellfish contain high levels of mercury, so you should avoid eating seafood for 48 hours before being tested.
Are there any risks to the test?
There is very little risk to having a blood test. You may experience slight pain or bruising at the spot where the needle was put in, but most symptoms go away quickly.
What do the results mean?
If your heavy metal blood test shows a high level of metal, you will need to completely avoid exposure to that metal. If that doesn’t reduce enough metal in your blood, your health care provider may recommend chelation therapy. Chelation therapy is a treatment where you take a pill or get an injection that works to remove excess metals from your body.
If your levels of heavy metal are low, but you still have symptoms of exposure, your health care provider will likely order more tests. Some heavy metals don’t stay in the bloodstream very long. These metals may stay longer in urine, hair, or other body tissues. So you may need to take a urine test or provide a sample of your hair, fingernail, or other tissue for analysis.