Lead is a chemical element that occurs naturally in the environment. Low levels of lead are usually present in the body. Lead poisoning is the result of lead building up in the bloodstream. This can happen over months or years of exposure to lead.

Lead is most often found in older homes and buildings where lead-based paint was used. Other sources include contaminated air, soil and drinking water.

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What is a lead blood test?

A lead blood test measures the amount of lead in the blood. It is used to screen people at risk for lead poisoning. These people include children living in older homes and industrial workers who are exposed to lead through their jobs. A lead blood test can also tell if treatment for lead poisoning is working. Treatment may include medication or reducing exposure to sources of lead.

Why is a lead blood test important?

Lead poisoning is most harmful to children and can cause mental and physical impairment. It can delay brain development, affecting intelligence, concentration ability, mood and behavior. In extreme cases, lead poisoning can cause death.

What should you expect with a lead blood test?

You don’t have to do anything to prepare for a lead blood test. A healthcare provider will draw a sample of blood from a vein in your arm or hand. In children, a blood sample may be taken from a finger or heel prick. Results are measured in micrograms per deciliter.

Normal results for a lead test can vary based on the laboratory. In general, normal lead levels for adults are less than 10 micrograms per deciliter. A normal lead level for children is less than five micrograms per deciliter. Your healthcare provider will talk to you about the meaning of your specific results and recommend treatment, if necessary.

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