A heavy metal blood test is a group of tests that measures the levels of possibly harmful metals in your blood.
Heavy metals are found naturally in the environment. They’re also found in certain medicines, supplements, and foods. And chemicals used in industry and farming may contain heavy metals, which can end up in the air, soil, and water.
Heavy metals get into your body in different ways. You might breathe them in, eat them, or absorb them through your skin. Because heavy metals are just about everywhere, it’s normal to have some in your body. But if too much heavy metal gets into your body, it can cause heavy metal poisoning.
Heavy metal poisoning can lead to organ damage, behavioral changes, or difficulties with thinking and memory. The symptoms of heavy metal poisoning depend on the type of metal, how much is in your body, and your age. Children and unborn babies have the highest risk for serious, long-term health problems from heavy metals.
Poisoning from heavy metals can happen slowly over time or suddenly if you are exposed to a large amount of heavy metal all at once.
The most commonly tested heavy metals are:
Other metals that may be tested include aluminum, beryllium, cobalt, copper, iron, manganese, nickel, platinum, selenium, silicon, silver, and thallium. You may have a heavy metal blood test for one type of metal, or you may have a test for a group of metals, called a “heavy metal panel.”
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 had a possible exposure to heavy metal or if you have symptoms of heavy metal poisoning. If your job involves heavy metals, your employer may require regular testing to help monitor workplace safety.
Symptoms of heavy metal poisoning depend on the type of metal and how much exposure you had. Your symptoms may include:
- Nausea, vomiting, and abdominal (belly) pain
- Tingling in the hands and feet
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle weakness
- Memory loss or changes in behavior
- Arrhythmia (problems with the rate or rhythm of your heartbeat)
Children under the age of 6 may need to be tested for lead poisoning if they have a risk of exposure to lead, even when they don’t have symptoms. That’s because very low levels of lead can damage a child’s developing brain and cause long-term growth and learning problems.
Children have a risk of lead exposure if they spend time in homes built before 1978 when lead-based paint was still used. These homes may have lead in household dust from old chipping or peeling paint. Lead from old paint and other old sources may also remain in the soil, especially in older neighborhoods of some cities.
Young children tend to be exposed when they touch surfaces or soil with lead and put their hands in their mouths. Your child’s provider may recommend lead testing based on your child’s possible exposure to lead and where you live. Some state and local governments require all children to be tested for lead.
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 your test.
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?
Higher than normal levels of a heavy metal in your blood may mean that you have heavy metal poisoning, but not always. Even if you don’t have symptoms, you may still need to avoid all exposure to that metal.
Depending on the heavy metal and your condition, you may also need treatment to help your body get rid of the heavy metal as quickly as possible. In certain cases, your provider may recommend chelation therapy. For this therapy, you’ll take medicine by mouth or have an injection (shot) of a medicine that helps remove the metals from your body through urine (pee). In certain cases, chelation medicine is given through an IV (intravenous) line.
Chelation therapy can have serious side effects, so the risks and benefits must be carefully considered.
Normal or low levels of heavy metal in your blood usually mean that you don’t have heavy metal poisoning. But some heavy metals leave your bloodstream quickly and are stored in your tissues. So, if you have symptoms, your provider will likely order more tests to check for heavy metals in samples of your urine, hair, skin, or fingernail clipping.
Talk with your provider to learn what your results mean.
Courtesy of MedlinePlus from the National Library of Medicine.