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Lead Poisoning Screening

Topic Overview

Programs to screen for lead poisoning focus on finding children or adults who are likely to be exposed to lead. These programs, developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), advise local and state agencies to determine which geographic areas are the most likely to be at risk for lead exposure. Age of housing is an important factor in determining risk, because older homes tend to have lead-based paint. If lead exposure is likely, then blood tests for infants and young children will be recommended to measure blood lead levels.

Talk to your child's doctor about whether your child is at risk. During a routine health exam, the risk for lead exposure can be evaluated by answering questions about family members' living and working conditions. The doctor may then decide whether blood lead levels should be measured.

Adults

The U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) requires companies to test the blood of employees who work with lead. OSHA sets industry standards to protect workers.

Adults who do not work with lead usually are not tested for lead poisoning. If you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant, you may want to ask your doctor about your risk for lead poisoning. A pregnant woman who is exposed to lead can pass it to her baby (fetus). Lead can also be passed to a baby through the mother's breast milk. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) does not recommend routine testing of blood lead levels in pregnant women who don't have symptoms.1

Children

Children should be checked, no matter what their age, if they have been exposed to lead or if they have symptoms that could be caused by lead poisoning.

If the answers to the following questions are "yes" or "I don't know," a lead test may need to be done.

  • Does your child live in or regularly visit a house or building that was built before 1978? This question could apply to a facility such as a home day care center or the home of a babysitter or relative.
  • Does your child have a sibling or playmate who now has or has had lead poisoning?
  • Does your child live in or regularly visit a house built before 1978 that has recently been (within the last 6 months) or is currently being renovated or remodeled?

The USPSTF does not recommend:1

  • Lead poisoning testing for children ages 1 to 5 who don't have symptoms and do not have an increased risk.
  • For or against routine testing in children ages 1 to 5 who have a greater risk for higher blood lead levels and don't have symptoms.

State and local health departments can provide information on testing recommendations in your area.

References

Citations

  1. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (2006). Screening for elevated blood lead levels in children and pregnant women. Available online: http://www.ahrq.gov/clinic/uspstf/uspslead.htm.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer John Pope, MD - Pediatrics
Specialist Medical Reviewer R. Steven Tharratt, MD, MPVM, FACP, FCCP - Pulmonology, Critical Care Medicine, Medical Toxicology
Last Revised June 5, 2012

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