About the Test
Purpose of the test
A heavy metals panel can be used to determine if you have high levels of one or more toxic metals.
Low levels of some heavy metals like iron and zinc are important for health. Other metals may be found in the body at relatively low levels because of normal environmental exposure. However, unsafe concentrations of heavy metals can accumulate and trigger potentially serious symptoms in exposed people.
The buildup of toxic metals can occur over the short- or long-term, and heavy metal testing can help reveal unhealthy exposure. Testing can be done in multiple contexts, including screening, diagnosis, and monitoring related to heavy metal poisoning.
- Screening is looking for indications of heavy metal poisoning if you have not shown any symptoms. This may be used if you have been exposed to toxic metals in your workplace or for children living in areas where home paint contains lead.
- Diagnosis is determining the cause of an illness if you have symptoms. If a doctor believes that you may have heavy metal poisoning, testing may be able to confirm the diagnosis and help determine the source of heavy metal exposure.
- Monitoring is part of the follow-up process to evaluate the response to treatment if you have previously been diagnosed with heavy metal poisoning.
What does the test measure?
Heavy metals can be measured individually or as part of a panel that tests for multiple compounds. Doctors can include specific metals in a panel test based on the situation, but the most common heavy metals panel includes lead, mercury, arsenic, and cadmium.
Examples of other metals that may be included are copper, zinc, chromium, thallium, aluminum, beryllium, cobalt, iron, bismuth, manganese, nickel, silver, selenium, silicon, and platinum.
For each toxic metal in the panel, the test provides a measurement of its concentration in the test sample. Levels for most metals are measured in micrograms (μg or mcg) and are reported per unit of volume based on the type of test sample.
When should I get this test?
Heavy metal tests are typically used when you have symptoms of heavy metal poisoning or have a suspected exposure to heavy metals. It is very important to talk with your doctor if you fit either of these categories.
Determining which metals to test for and which type of test sample to use can depend on the nature of your symptoms or possible exposure. Working with your doctor helps ensure you get the most appropriate testing.
If you have been exposed to heavy metals, your doctor can work with you and, if necessary, local poison control officials to find and eliminate the source of exposure.
Regulations around workplace exposure are overseen by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which can require testing of employees who may have been exposed to toxic metals at work. OSHA is a regulatory agency under the United States Department of Labor.