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Lead (Blood)

Does this test have other names?

Serum lead level, BLL

What is this test?

This test measures the amount of lead in your child's blood. It can find out whether your child has been exposed to lead.

Before 1978, lead was a major ingredient in household paint. It still can be found in older homes and in the soil around them. Children can inhale lead dust or chew on items that use lead-based paint. High levels of lead in the blood can be toxic.  

Why does my child need this test?

If you live in a home built before 1978, your doctor might order this test to see if your child has been exposed to lead. Children also are tested for lead if they have signs and symptoms of lead poisoning, including:

  • Abdominal (belly) pain

  • Anemia, or low red blood cell counts

  • Nausea

  • Weight loss

  • Extreme tiredness

  • Headache

  • Learning disabilities

This test is also used to see if treatment for lead poisoning is working.

What other tests might my child have along with this test?

If your child has higher than normal lead levels, the doctor might order a complete blood count to check for anemia, a condition in which the red blood count is low. If your child has anemia, his or her body may not get enough oxygen.

Your child may also have these blood tests:

  • Reticulocyte count

  • Serum iron

  • Total iron-binding capacity

  • Ferritin

For children who need treatment for lead poisoning, more tests may be needed to see if their kidneys and liver are working the way they should. These tests include:

  • Serum electrolytes

  • Blood urea nitrogen

  • Creatinine

  • Calcium

  • Magnesium

  • Liver function tests

  • Urinalysis

What do my child's test results mean?

Many things may affect your child's lab test results. These include the method each lab uses to do the test. Even if your child's test results are different from the normal value, your child may not have a problem. To learn what the results mean for your child, talk with your child's health care provider.

The normal lead range for children is less than 2 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL).

A test result greater than 10 mcg/dL is high and may mean your child has lead poisoning. The higher the level of lead in your child's blood, the greater the risk of learning disabilities, impaired growth, and kidney and nerve damage.

How is this test done?

The test requires a blood sample, which is drawn through a needle from a vein in your child's arm. Blood samples from infants and children may also be collected by a finger stick. If test results from a finger stick are abnormal, a blood draw from a vein is usually done to confirm the results.

Does this test pose any risks?

Taking a blood sample with a needle carries risks that include bleeding, infection, bruising, or feeling dizzy. When the needle pricks your arm, you may feel a slight stinging sensation or pain. Afterward, the site may be slightly sore.

What might affect my child's test results?

The test results reflect only recent exposure to lead.

You may get a false test result if:

  • Blood is taken from your child's finger and he or she has dust or dirt on his or her hands.

  • Your child is not getting enough calcium, iron, and vitamin C and eating too much fat.

How do I get my child ready for this test?

Your child doesn't need to prepare for this test.