Should you get tested for heavy metals?

Nov 11, 2023

What is a heavy metal test?

A heavy metal test is a diagnostic procedure designed to identify elevated levels of toxic or potentially harmful metals within the body. These hazardous metals can be present in the environment, certain foods or medications, and occasionally, water. Exposure to these metals can occur through skin contact, inhalation, or ingestion.

While these heavy metals are generally safe in small quantities, excessive consumption can lead to metal poisoning, which, if untreated, can be fatal. If there are indications of heavy metal poisoning, healthcare providers may recommend a heavy metal test.

Biotechnology engineer inspecting cell culture flask

What does a heavy metal test look for?

A heavy metal test aims to detect dangerous metals when they are present at specific concentrations. Examples of such heavy metals include arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, and mercury. Less frequently, the test may also assess levels of aluminum, copper, iron, manganese, nickel, selenium, silicon, thallium, and zinc.

What are the signs of heavy metal poisoning?

The symptoms of heavy metal poisoning are often nonspecific and can overlap with other medical conditions. If individuals exhibit signs of metal poisoning, such as abdominal pain, chills, diarrhea, muscle weakness, nausea or vomiting, shortness of breath, or tingling in the hands or feet, healthcare providers may recommend a heavy metal test.

Abdominal pain , stomach , Nausea , woman

What biological samples are used in heavy metal tests?

Heavy metal tests analyze samples in a laboratory setting, with potential sources including blood, urine, fingernails, or hair. The choice of biological sample depends on the specific metals being examined and whether exposure is believed to be short-term or long-term. Blood and urine samples are the most commonly utilized for these tests.

How do I prepare for a heavy metal test?

Healthcare providers will provide specific instructions for preparing for a heavy metal test. Generally, individuals are advised to avoid consuming seafood for 48 hours prior to the test, as seafood consumption can temporarily elevate certain heavy metal levels. Additionally, avoiding gadolinium-, barium-, and iodine-based contrasts used in imaging studies for at least 96 hours before the test is recommended to prevent interference with some heavy metal tests.

What should I expect during a heavy metal test?

The collection of samples for heavy metal tests involves various methods:

  • Blood tests: A healthcare provider draws a blood sample using a needle, either from a vein or capillaries, taking only a few minutes.
  • Urine tests: Individuals collect a urine sample at home over a 24-hour period, following specific instructions provided by their healthcare provider.
  • Hair or fingernail tests: A laboratory professional obtains a hair or fingernail sample, typically at the provider's office or hospital, with the process being brief and generally painless.

What should I expect after a heavy metal test?

After providing a blood, urine, hair, or fingernail sample, individuals can resume their regular activities. The samples are analyzed by specialists in a laboratory, and the results are then sent to the healthcare provider. The provider reviews the results with the individual within a few days.

What do the results of a heavy metal test mean?

Heavy metal test results indicate specific levels of hazardous metals:

  • Low levels may suggest an absence of heavy metal poisoning. If symptoms persist, further tests may be ordered to determine the underlying cause.
  • High levels could indicate heavy metal poisoning, necessitating avoidance of exposure to that particular metal. Healthcare providers may offer instructions for minimizing exposure. If levels remain elevated, chelation therapy, involving the administration of medications to remove excess metals, may be prescribed under the supervision of a healthcare provider.

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