What is Arsenic Blood test?

An arsenic blood test is used to determine if you have recently been exposed to excessive amounts of the element arsenic. 

Arsenic is naturally present in the Earth’s crust in both organic and inorganic forms. It is also used in wood preservatives, pesticides and tobacco. Small arsenic particles are released into the atmosphere and onto the soil from volcanic eruptions and mining activities. 

Arsenic from the soil (both natural and added from mining activities) can leach into the groundwater and enter our body through ingestion leading to toxicity and poisoning. Plants grown in arsenic-rich soil may also be a source of arsenic poisoning.

Additionally, arsenic exposure may be due to self-administration (accidentally consumed or deliberately taken for suicidal or homicidal purposes) such as from insecticides, rodenticides or pesticides that contain arsenic. The lethal dose of inorganic arsenic is about 0.6 mg/kg/day.

Inorganic arsenic is extremely toxic. However, it only stays for a short while in the bloodstream - 2 days max. Within 2 days, most arsenic binds to different tissues. It is then slowly processed out from the body. 

So, an arsenic blood test is only effective in determining acute exposures to this metal - immediately after exposure. An arsenic blood test can also be used to monitor the effectiveness of arsenic poisoning therapy.

  1. Why is an Arsenic Blood test performed?
  2. How do you prepare for an Arsenic Blood test?
  3. How is an Arsenic Blood test performed?
  4. Arsenic Blood test results and normal range

Your doctor may order this test if you present with the symptoms of arsenic poisoning after a recent exposure to the metal. The following symptoms are seen in acute arsenic poisoning:

  • Gastrointestinal symptoms:

    • Vomiting
    • Nausea
    • Profuse bloody watery diarrhoea
    • Colicky abdominal pain
    • Excessive salivation
    • Death due to excessive fluid loss and reduced volume of circulating blood leading to circulatory collapse
  • Seizures
  • Acute psychosis
  • Diffuse skin rash
  • Toxic cardiomyopathy
  • Haematological symptoms:
    • Intravascular coagulation (formation of blood clots within blood vessels)
    • Bone marrow depression (reduction in the activity of the bone marrow)
    • Haemoglobinuria (presence of haemoglobin in urine)
    • Severe pancytopenia (low count for all types of blood cells)
    • Basophilic stippling (presence of specific type of granules in RBCs)
    • Normocytic normochromic anaemia (anaemia in which the haemoglobin content is mildly decreased. It is usually associated with chronic diseases)
  • Respiratory failure
  • Pulmonary oedema
  • Neurological symptoms:
    • Peripheral neuropathy (damage of nerves) lasting one to two years (damage of nerves)
    • Rapid, severe ascending weakness
    • Encephalopathy (alteration of brain function)
  • Metabolic changes
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You do not need any preparations for this test. If you are taking any medication, vitamins or supplements, inform your doctor. He/she may ask you to discontinue the intake of certain drugs. Do not stop taking any medicine on your own. 

Avoid seafood for up to 72 hours before the test. If you have undergone any procedure involving iodine- or gadolinium-containing contrast media, wait for 96 hours before providing the sample as it may affect the test results.

A laboratory technician will collect a small amount of blood from a vein in your arm using the following procedure:

  • The technician will first tie a tourniquet - an elastic band - around your upper arm. This is done to locate a vein for the withdrawal of the sample. 
  • They will wipe the site of injection with an antiseptic and draw blood using a sterile syringe. You may feel a mild pricking pain when the needle is injected.
  • After the blood sample is collected, the technician will remove the tourniquet, and with the help of a cotton swab, they will apply gentle pressure to stop the bleeding

After the test, you may notice slight bruising at the needle insertion site along with pain and discomfort. These usually go away in a short.

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Normal results:

Usually, the concentration of arsenic in the blood is in the range of 0-12 ng/mL for all ages. If the test result is within this level, it is said to be acceptable.

Abnormal results:

If the arsenic levels in the blood are higher than 12 ng/mL, it indicates a significant exposure to the element. 

Disclaimer: All results must be clinically correlated with the patient’s complaints to make a complete and accurate diagnosis. The above information is provided from a purely educational point of view and is in no way a substitute for medical advice by a qualified doctor.


  1. Hall M, Chen Y, Ahsan H, et al. Blood arsenic as a biomarker of arsenic exposure: results from a prospective study. Toxicology 2006;225:225–233.
  2. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences [Internet]. National Institute of Health. U.S.A. Arsenic
  3. Ratnaike RN. Acute and chronic arsenic toxicity. Postgraduate Med J. 2003;79:391-396. PMID: 12897217
  4. Saha JC, Dikshit AK, Bandyopadhyay M, Saha KC. A review of arsenic poisoning and its effects on human health. Crit Rev Environ Sci Technol. 30 June 2010:281-313.
  5. National Health Service [internet]. UK; Blood Tests
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