Lead screenings are routinely
performed on children at risk of a developmental delay or disorder. A developmental
delay or disorder may be a sign of lead poisoning.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, one million U.S. children have
elevated lead levels in their blood. Even low levels of lead can cause a range
of chronic conditions, including everything from anemia, hearing loss, and kidney
problems, to physical and developmental delays; severe exposure to lead can cause
seizures, coma, and even death.
Some states require pediatricians to regularly screen children under age three
for lead exposure; however, many states do not. Lead poisoning is an environmental
problem that can be prevented and treated. Often, however, exposure to lead goes
undetected until the child’s physical or developmental symptoms are evident.
Developmental delays and behavioral problems can be a symptom of lead poisoning.
A child who mouths many objects, or may put non-food items in the mouth, may
be at risk of lead poisoning. Because of the range of risks involved, lead screenings
are routinely performed when a child shows the signs of a developmental delay
or disorder. This screening should be conducted immediately in order to rule
out lead poisoning and, if detected, to minimize the negative effects of lead
Lead Screening Procedure
A lead screening is conducted by a simple blood test. Your physician may complete
this test with a finger prick or by taking blood from a vein. Generally, physicians
prefer to test blood from a vein in a child’s arm. If a stick test shows a significant
elevation of lead levels in a child’s blood, another sample will be taken from
the child’s vein to confirm the results.
Your physician may also ask you some questions to find out if your child is at
risk of lead poisoning, but these questions should not take the place of a blood
test if your child is not meeting major developmental milestones. Lead exposure
may come from a number of sources, as detailed by the following list from the
Centers for Disease Control (CDC):
- “Lead-based paint in older homes that is deteriorating, creating dust
and paint chips easily ingested by young children.
- Lead-based paint in homes that is disturbed during renovation or remodeling.
- Lead-based paint in homes that is exposed, on a surface easily chewed by
a young child (such as a window sill).
- Lead-contaminated soil.
- Operating or abandoned industrial sites and smelters. Although lead pollution
has been greatly reduced, some soil and dust contamination can still result.
- Occupations and hobbies. Children can be exposed to lead-contaminated dust
on parents’ clothes.
- Use of lead-containing ceramics for cooking, eating or drinking.
- Use of traditional home remedies or cosmetics that contain lead.”
If a screening detects high lead levels, medical treatment such as “chelation
therapy” may be necessary to remove lead from the body. Even low levels
of lead exposure may cause ongoing health and developmental concerns. Some children
with lead poisoning may need Early Intervention or special education services.
All children with elevated lead levels will need ongoing screenings to monitor
their health and may need significant environmental changes to minimize continued
For more information on Lead Poisoning, call the National Lead Information Clearinghouse
at 1-800-424-LEAD, Or, visit the sources used as references for this page:
The Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) Fact Sheet
Roles of Child Healthcare Providers in Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention
Disease Control (CDC) (PDF)
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