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Sep 2023

Everything you should know about heavy metal tests

Posted By Suborna Fermi Posted on Sep 16, 2023

Heavy metal tests help to detect if there is a heavy metal buildup or poisoning in your body. Metal poisoning can cause a wide range of symptoms. There are many types of heavy metal testing which may require a blood, urine, hair, or fingernail sample.

What is heavy metal poisoning?

Heavy metals are naturally occurring elements that can be found everywhere. Our bodies also contain certain essential heavy metals including iron, zinc, copper etc. Human body does need certain metals for our daily functions. However, toxic levels of heavy metal in our body can be dangerous, and cause various health complications.

Heavy metal poisoning or toxicity may occur when our body’s soft tissues absorb too much of a particular metal for a very long period of time. The common heavy metals that our body can absorbs in toxic levels are:

  • Arsenic
  • Mercury
  • Lead
  • Cadmium
  • Chromium

You can develop these metal toxicities because of certain foods, contaminated water, medicines, polluted air, lead-based paint and other sources.

What are the symptoms of heavy metal poisoning?

Not everyone will experience the same symptoms as the symptoms generally depend on the type of metal poisoning you have. However, the most common symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Shortness of breath

Apart from these, children with metal poisoning may experience deformed bone structure or poor bone health. Metal poisoning in pregnancy can cause premature labor or miscarriage.

Specific types of heavy metal poisoning can cause additional symptoms along with the general symptoms. Common symptoms of arsenic poisoning are:

  • Red or inflamed skin
  • Lesions
  • Muscle cramps
  • Unusual heart rhythm

The symptoms of mercury poisoning include:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Poor vision
  • Lack of coordination
  • Hearing or speech problems
  • Nerve damage of hands and feet
  • Difficulty in walking

The common symptoms of lead poisoning are:

  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • High blood pressure
  • Constipation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Anemia
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Irritability
  • Memory loss

Cadmium poisoning symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Shortness of breath
  • Muscle pain

What are the samples required for heavy metal testing?

There are many types of heavy metal testing, which requires a biological sample to check for metal toxicity. A sample of blood, urine, hair, or fingernails might be required for the test. Most healthcare providers prefer blood samples or urine samples for the heavy metal test.

How do I need to prepare for the test?

Generally fasting is not required for this test. However, as seafood can temporarily increase certain heavy metals, this is why it is necessary to avoid eating seafood 48 hours before appearing for the heavy metal test. Also, if you are taking any medicines, talk with your doctor for special guidance.

What happens during the heavy metal test?

  • Blood test: For Blood sample collection, a lab technician will clean an area of your forearm, and then will insert a thin needle into a vein to collect a small sample of blood. They might also use fingerstick to collect the blood from capillaries. The blood sample collection procedure may take only a few minutes to complete.
  • Urine test: An urine sample over a 24 hours period is required for the testing. The container will be given to you by the laboratory.
  • Hair and fingernail test: This sample collection is probably the easiest. For a hair or fingernails sample, a laboratory professional will collect them and send them for analysis. This procedure only takes a few minutes and does not cause any pain.

What does the result indicate?

Generally every test report contains the reference ranges. However, the common interpretations are as described below.

  • Low levels: If your test results show low levels, then it indicates that you do not have any heavy metal toxicity. Your doctor may recommend other testing to rule out the cause behind your symptoms.
  • High levels: If your test report shows high levels, then it may indicate that you have heavy metal poisoning. Your doctor will give your proper guidance to avoid the exposure. If avoiding exposure does not help to reduce the levels, then they might recommend chelation therapy for treatment.

These are the general interpretations, make sure to consult with your doctor for the better clarification of your test results.