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Lead Screening

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 exposure.

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.”

(Source: )

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 lead exposure.

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
Centers for Disease Control (CDC) (PDF)

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