What It Is
A lead test is used to determine the amount of lead in the blood.
Why It's Done
Lead is a heavy metal found naturally in the environment as well as in many common consumer products. Though it serves no purpose in the human body, most people have a small amount of it in their bodies because it's so prevalent in our surroundings.
In adults, a low level of lead exposure isn't always considered dangerous. However, in babies and young kids whose brains are still developing, even a small amount of lead can cause learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and anemia. At higher levels, lead exposure can cause seizures, coma, and even death.
Doctors determine whether to do a blood lead test and when based on a child's risk for lead poisoning. Those who are considered at risk — such as kids who live in cities or in houses built before 1978 (the year that regulations began requiring that lead-containing paints could not be used in households) or who are exposed to lead through a parent's occupation — are usually tested at ages 1 and 2 years, and might require additional testing until age 6.
No special preparations are needed for this test. It may help to have your child wear a T-shirt or short-sleeved shirt on the day of the test to make things faster and easier for the technician who will be drawing the blood.
A health professional will usually draw the blood from a vein. For an infant, the blood may be obtained by puncturing the heel with a small needle (lancet). If the blood is being drawn from a vein, the skin surface is cleaned with antiseptic, and an elastic band (tourniquet) is placed around the upper arm to apply pressure and cause the veins to swell with blood. A needle is inserted into a vein (usually in the arm inside of the elbow or on the back of the hand) and blood is withdrawn and collected in a vial or syringe.
After the procedure, the elastic band is removed. Once the blood has been collected, the needle is removed and the area is covered with cotton or a bandage to stop the bleeding. Collecting blood for this test will only take a few minutes.
What to Expect
Either method (heel sticking or vein withdrawal) of collecting a sample of blood is only temporarily uncomfortable and can feel like a quick pinprick. Afterward, there may be some mild bruising, which should go away in a few days.
Getting the Results
The blood sample will be processed by a machine. The results of routine blood lead screening tests are usually reported within a few days.
If lead levels in the blood are found to be slightly elevated, your doctor may give you information on reducing your child's lead exposure. For higher levels, your child may require treatment with medicine to reduce the lead levels. And, your local health department may get involved to help detect lead sources in your home.
The lead test is considered a safe procedure. However, as with many medical tests, some problems can occur with having blood drawn:
- fainting or feeling lightheaded
- hematoma (blood accumulating under the skin causing a lump or bruise)
- pain associated with multiple punctures to locate a vein
Helping Your Child
Having a blood test is relatively painless. Still, many children are afraid of needles. Explaining the test in terms your child can understand might help ease some of the fear.
Allow your child to ask the technician any questions he or she might have. Tell your child to try to relax and stay still during the procedure, as tensing muscles and moving can make it harder and more painful to draw blood. It also may help if your child looks away when the needle is being inserted into the skin.
If You Have Questions
If you have questions about the lead test, contact your doctor. Your local health department may also have information about lead exposure and testing.
Reviewed by: Yamini Durani, MD
Date reviewed: July 2014
|American Medical Association (AMA) The AMA has made a commitment to medicine by making doctors more accessible to their patients. Contact the AMA at: American Medical Association|
515 N. State St.
Chicago, IL 60610
|American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) The AAP is committed to the health and well-being of infants, adolescents, and young adults. The website offers news articles and tips on health for families.|
|American Society of Hematology This group provides information relating to blood, blood-forming tissues, and blood diseases.|
|Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) The EPA is the government agency that works to protect human health and safeguard the natural environment.|
|Lab Tests Online This non-commercial site was developed by laboratory professionals to educate caregivers, patients, and patients' families about lab tests.|
|Lead Poisoning Long-term exposure to lead can cause serious health problems, particularly in young kids, so it's important to find out whether your child might be at risk for lead exposure.|
|Auditory Processing Disorder Auditory processing disorder (APD) is often misunderstood because it can be confused with certain learning disabilities and ADHD. Read this article to learn more about this disorder.|
|Can Lead Affect My Unborn Baby? Find out what the experts have to say.|
|How Do I Get My Child Tested for Lead Poisoning? Find out what the experts have to say.|
|Pica Some young kids have the eating disorder pica, which is characterized by persistent and compulsive cravings to eat nonfood items.|
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2014 KidsHealth® All rights reserved.
Images provided by iStock, Getty Images, Corbis, Veer, Science Photo Library, Science Source Images, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com