Skip to Content
Home > Wellness > 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
There is no safe age to be exposed to lead. Adults can have
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
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.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerJohn Pope, MD - PediatricsE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerR. Steven Tharratt, MD, MPVM, FACP, FCCP - Pulmonology, Critical Care Medicine, Medical Toxicology
Current as ofApril 26, 2016
Current as of:
April 26, 2016
John Pope, MD - Pediatrics & E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & R. Steven Tharratt, MD, MPVM, FACP, FCCP - Pulmonology, Critical Care Medicine, Medical Toxicology
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2016 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
I Want To...
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.