Heavy Metal Test
What is a heavy metal test?
A heavy metal test checks for high levels of toxic or potentially harmful metals in your body. Toxic heavy metals are in the environment, some foods or medicines and, sometimes, water. You may absorb heavy metals through your skin, breathe them in or eat them.
These heavy metals are safe in small amounts. But if you consume too much of these metals, you may develop metal poisoning. Without treatment, overexposure to certain heavy metals can be fatal. Your healthcare provider may order a heavy metal test if you have signs of heavy metal poisoning.
What does a heavy metal test look for?
Heavy metal tests look for potentially dangerous metals when found at certain concentrations. Examples of these heavy metals include:
Less commonly, a heavy metal test may also look for:
What are the signs of heavy metal poisoning?
The signs of heavy metal poisoning are often not specific and overlap with other conditions. Your healthcare provider may recommend a heavy metal test if you have signs of metal poisoning, including:
- Abdominal pain.
- Muscle weakness.
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Shortness of breath (dyspnea).
- Tingling in your hands or feet.
What biological samples are used in heavy metal tests?
All heavy metal tests analyze a test sample in a laboratory. Your provider may collect a sample of:
The biological sample used for a heavy metal test depends on what metals your provider is checking for and whether they think your exposure was short-term or long-term. Blood and urine tests are the most common samples used for heavy metal tests.
How do I prepare for a heavy metal test?
Your healthcare provider will give you specific instructions to prepare for a heavy metal test. You typically should avoid eating seafood for 48 hours before the test. Eating seafood can cause a temporary increase in some heavy metal levels.
You should also avoid gadolinium-, barium- and iodine-based contrasts used for imaging studies for at least 96 hours prior to the test because these may interfere with some heavy metal tests.
What should I expect during a heavy metal test?
All heavy metal test methods involve collecting a sample to send to a laboratory:
- Blood tests: Your healthcare provider takes a blood sample in their office. They insert a needle into one of your veins and collect a small vial of blood. They may also use a fingerstick to take blood from your capillaries. These processes take only a few minutes.
- Urine tests: You collect a urine sample at home over a 24-hour period. Your provider gives you a specific container with instructions for collecting the sample.
- Hair or fingernail tests: A laboratory professional takes a hair or fingernail sample in your provider’s office or at the hospital. This process takes only a few minutes, and you don’t typically have any pain or other side effects.
What should I expect after a heavy metal test?
After you give your blood, urine, hair or fingernail sample, you can return home and continue your usual activities. Specialists in a laboratory analyze your sample and send the results to your healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider reviews the results with you in a few days.
Results and Follow-Up
What do the results of a heavy metal test mean?
Heavy metal tests show your levels of specific heavy metals:
- Low levels may mean you don’t have heavy metal poisoning. If you still have symptoms of heavy metal poisoning, your provider will likely order more tests to find the cause of your symptoms.
- High levels could point to heavy metal poisoning. You’ll need to avoid exposure to that metal for a period of time. Your healthcare provider will give you instructions for avoiding exposure. If avoiding the metal doesn’t reduce your levels, your provider may prescribe chelation therapy. Chelation therapy involves taking medicines by mouth or injection to remove excess metals from your body under the care of your healthcare provider.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
A heavy metal test checks for irregular levels of toxic or potentially harmful metals. You may interact with toxic metals in your environment, food, or water. Consuming too much of these metals can lead to heavy metal poisoning. If you have signs of heavy metal poisoning, your provider may order a heavy metal test. These tests analyze a blood, urine, hair or fingernail sample. Depending on your test results, you may need treatment to reduce the number of heavy metals in your blood.
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