An arsenic blood test can detect the amount of arsenic in your bloodstream. Arsenic is a heavy metal element. If your body has high levels of arsenic, you may have arsenic poisoning.

You can be exposed to arsenic by eating contaminated foods, such as shellfish, fruits, vegetables and rice. You can also get exposed by drinking contaminated water. Certain chemical compounds, such as weed killers, insecticides and wood preservatives, can also contain arsenic. When burned, they release arsenic gas into the air. You can be exposed to arsenic by breathing those fumes.

There are two types of arsenic: organic arsenic and inorganic arsenic. Inorganic arsenic is much more harmful to people. However, very high levels of organic arsenic can also be poisonous.

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Why is an arsenic blood test important?

Arsenic in your body can make you feel sick. Possible symptoms of a mild level of arsenic in your blood include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Headache
  • Pain and cramping in your abdomen
  • Dark-colored urine

However, high arsenic levels can be life-threatening. If you experience the following symptoms, call 911 or go to the ER immediately:

  • Delirium
  • A metallic taste in the mouth
  • Problems swallowing
  • Extreme diarrhea
  • Convulsions

Arsenic poisoning can destroy your red blood cells, which carry oxygen to all the parts of your body. Without enough red blood cells, you can go into shock and even die.

What can I expect from an arsenic blood test?

Your healthcare provider will take a blood sample from you. A lab technician will measure the amounts of organic and inorganic arsenic in your blood. However, a blood test can only detect blood concentration of arsenic for a day or two after you’ve been exposed to arsenic. You will probably also need a urine test. Your healthcare provider may also ask you to have an electrocardiogram, or EKG.

If you have arsenic poisoning, your provider will want to start treatment to remove the arsenic from your blood right away. An arsenic blood test can also be used to monitor your progress during treatment.

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