Heavy metals can build up in the body and cause a wide range of symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and behavioral changes. Heavy metal tests require urine or blood samples.

A heavy metal test examines the levels of heavy metals in the blood or urine. High levels can indicate a person has had exposure to heavy metals.

Certain heavy metals serve a purpose in human health, such as iron, zinc, copper, and manganese. However, at high concentrations, these heavy metals are toxic.

Heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead, thallium, and mercury are present in the environment. However, they do not occur naturally in the human body, and people do not need them as part of their diet. Consuming these heavy metals is harmful.

Heavy metal tests most commonly screen for:

  • lead
  • arsenic
  • mercury
  • cadmium

People may take a heavy metal test if they have symptoms of heavy metal poisoning or if they live or work in places where heavy metal exposure is likely.

Children may take a heavy metal test as part of standard screening procedures in certain states when entering the United States.

Heavy metals are present in the environment and living organisms, such as plants and animals. They also occur naturally in the air, but human activity can significantly increase their levels.

Industry, certain diets, and specific living and working environments can expose people to heavy metals. People should take heavy metal tests if their work, diet, or environment puts them at risk of heavy metal exposure.

However, the American College of Medical Toxicology and The American Academy of Clinical Toxicology recommends against testing for heavy metals unless someone is sure they have had exposure to heavy metals or have symptoms specific to heavy metal poisoning.

The organizations say that while testing does not pose any danger to people, it can cause very high levels of stress and anxiety. It can also be expensive.

Below, we look into the instances that may indicate someone should take a heavy metal test.


Some sources of environmental heavy metal pollution include:

  • the agriculture and metal industries
  • improper waste disposal
  • fertilizer and pesticide usage

People working in these industries or with these chemicals may consider taking a heavy metal test.


Eating plants, seafood, or meat from contaminated soil, freshwater, or seawater, can expose people to heavy metals.

Heavy metals can occur in seafood due to industrial waste. Smaller fish consume microbes in the water that contain organic mercury.

Larger fish can consume mercury-contaminated sealife. If a person eats these larger fish, they may be at risk of mercury exposure.

Heavy metals can be present in meat if animals receive exposure to them in the air, food, or water.

Old homes

Others who may wish to consider a heavy metal test include people who live or work in an older house or an area with aging water pipes. This is because manufacturers used to make water pipes out of lead.

Older homes may also contain lead paint, which flakes over time. People can inhale it as dust particles, especially if they are sanding down old paint.

Traditional or alternative medicine

Research notes that traditional Chinese, Ayurveda, Siddha, and homeopathy medications can contain high amounts of heavy metals that can become toxic over time.


Children are more susceptible to heavy metal poisoning.

Additionally, those under 6 years of age may require lead testing. Lead is a heavy metal that can lead to brain damage and behavioral conditions, especially in children whose brains are still developing.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that this test should be essential for all refugee children who are 6 months to 16 years of age upon entering the United States and those who have lived in older buildings in a state of disrepair.

A pediatrician may recommend lead testing for other young children, depending on their living conditions and the presence of any symptoms.

If a person displays any symptoms of heavy metal poisoning, they should contact a healthcare professional as soon as possible for testing, treatment, and advice.

The general symptoms of heavy metal poisoning include:

However, a person’s symptoms may depend on the specific type of heavy metal poisoning.


The symptoms of lead poisoning vary according to a person’s age and the extent of their exposure to the metal.

Sometimes, children can be asymptomatic despite having high lead levels in their bodies.

Symptoms in children include:

Symptoms in adults include:

Lead poisoning can be fatal for both adults and children.

Learn more about lead poisoning.


The symptoms of arsenic poisoning include:

Learn more about arsenic poisoning.


The symptoms of metallic mercury poisoning can include:

  • mood changes
  • irritability
  • tremors
  • insomnia
  • cognitive problems

The symptoms of methylmercury — a type of mercury that occurs in plants, fish, and water — poisoning include:

  • vision loss
  • tingling in the hands, feet, and around the mouth
  • coordination problems
  • problems with speech and hearing
  • muscle weakness
  • walking difficulties

Learn more about mercury poisoning.


Cadmium is a rare element but can be present in the air, fertilizer, sewage, batteries, and other industrial products. Mining and burning fossil fuels are key sources of cadmium in the air.

Symptoms of cadmium poisoning may change depending on whether a person has inhaled or ingested cadmium.

The symptoms of cadmium inhalation include:

  • chills
  • fever
  • myalgias, or muscle pain
  • chest pain
  • cough
  • shortness of breath
  • spasms in the airways
  • coughing blood

The symptoms of cadmium ingestion include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • abdominal cramps
  • stomach pain
  • diarrhea

When taking a heavy metal test, a person may need to provide a urine or blood sample. A 2020 overview of heavy metal toxicity also lists hair, nails, and skin as potential samples a doctor may test.

A doctor may advise a person to avoid eating certain fish or shellfish for up to 96 hours before taking a heavy metal test. This is because they can contain high levels of mercury and interfere with test results.

Providing a sample

Providing a blood sample at the doctor’s office will involve a healthcare professional taking blood from a vein in the arm.

Generally, taking an at-home heavy metal test involves using a finger-prick test. A person will press a small needle, sometimes called a lancet, into the side of a fingertip. They may feel a small pinch when the needle goes in.

Once they remove the lancet, a person may need to gently massage their finger and provide blood spots onto a collection card. The number of blood spots necessary for the test may differ between companies.

To take a urine sample, a person needs to fill a urine cup or tube with urine. If they need to take urine samples over several days, the doctor will provide them with the correct number of sample containers.

Test results can show whether a person has elevated levels of a range of different heavy metals in their system. These results may also explain what each result means for the individual’s health.

Some at-home tests may include suggestions for the next steps, such as arranging an appointment with a healthcare professional.

A person should contact a doctor if they receive results that suggest high or low levels of heavy metals. At-home testing should not replace care from a doctor.

People can buy at-home tests online. While many of these companies are reputable and use regulated laboratories to test people’s samples, there are risks to taking at-home heavy metal tests.

A person should be aware of the risk of contaminating the sample when taking an at-home heavy metal test. People should closely follow any instructions about preparing, collecting, storing, and sending their samples to minimize the risk of contaminating them.

In heavy metal tests requiring a blood sample, there is a small risk of bruising at the site where a person took the sample.

The results of an at-home heavy metal test may not always be accurate. Additionally, an at-home test may not be suitable for the type of heavy metal exposure someone has experienced.

A person may wish to research further before buying an at-home heavy metal test to make sure it is suitable for their needs and that it comes from a reputable company that uses trusted testing facilities.

Below, we provide answers to some frequently asked questions about heavy metal testing.

What causes heavy metal poisoning?

Heavy metals occur naturally and are present in air, soil, and water. They are also a byproduct of many industrial activities.

Work, pollution, and certain products can expose people to heavy metals. Heavy metals may also be present in some foods, such as mercury-contaminated fish.

Are at-home heavy metal tests accurate?

If a company uses Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments- or College of American Pathologists-certified labs, the test results are more likely to be accurate. However, user errors, such as collecting a sample incorrectly, can affect accuracy.

People should not use an at-home test as a replacement for a diagnosis from a healthcare professional. If a person believes they may have heavy metal poisoning, they should contact a doctor as soon as possible for advice.

What should I do if a test comes back positive?

People should avoid any further exposure to heavy metals where possible if they receive positive test results.

If a heavy metal test comes back positive, it is important to discuss the results with a healthcare professional as soon as possible.

Heavy metals occur both naturally and as a byproduct of human activity. High amounts of heavy metals in the body can cause symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and behavioral changes.

An at-home heavy metal test checks the amount of these materials in the body. However, people should not use these products as a replacement for testing, diagnosis, and advice from a healthcare professional. If a person has any symptoms of heavy metal poisoning, they should contact a doctor as soon as possible.