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What is Mercury Urine test? 

Mercury is a toxic heavy metal which can cause serious health problems if ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Some amount of this metal is naturally present in the environment. It is also produced continuously through human activities such as burning of fossil fuels.

Depending on the composition and source, the three major forms of mercury are:

  • Metallic mercury (present in dental fillings, batteries and thermometers)
  • Inorganic mercury (found in cosmetics such as skin lightening creams)
  • Organic mercury (such as methyl mercury, mostly found in seafood)

A mercury urine test is performed to check for excessive amount of metallic or inorganic mercury in the body. 

Exposure to excessive quantities of any of these forms is harmful to health. Individuals who work at waste collection sites or in factories/industries which use mercury are at a higher risk of being exposed to this heavy metal and developing the symptoms of mercury toxicity. 

Smoke from factories, hospital incinerators and power plants can also cause mercury exposure through inhalation. 

  1. Why is a Mercury Urine test performed?
  2. How do you prepare for a Mercury Urine test?
  3. How is a Mercury Urine test performed?
  4. What do Mercury Urine test results mean?

This test is mainly ordered to look for metallic or inorganic mercury in the body and to determine the extent of exposure to this heavy metal. 

Mercury exposure can produce different symptoms. 

The symptoms of short-term exposure to mercury are: 

Prolonged exposure to mercury can produce the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty in walking
  • Loss of memory and brain fog
  • Vision problems 
  • Hearing problems
  • Irritability 
  • Numbness in the extremities 
  • Unexplained mood swings
  • Tremors in arms or legs

Your doctor may also ask you to get this test if it is known that you have recently been exposed to mercury (as in the case of individuals who work in industries and factories using heavy metals). You may not be showing the symptoms, but timely testing can help the doctor to determine the extent of mercury exposure.

Breastfeeding women may also be asked to take this test if the doctor suspects recent exposure. 

No prior preparations are needed for this test. However, you must tell your doctor if you are taking any medications, health supplements or drugs.

If you have undergone any imaging tests involving iodine or gadolinium-based contrast media, then you should collect the urine sample only 96 hours after administration of the contrast medium. 

Inform your doctor about your food habits and diet. Eating certain seafood could raise the levels of this heavy metal in your body; hence, their intake is best avoided for at least two days prior to the urine test.

Many skin lightening creams contain mercury, please talk to your doctor if you use them. 

This test is conducted by taking a 24-hour urine sample. You will be provided with a container to collect the sample. 

Collection of the sample should begin in the morning. However, the first urine in the morning must be discarded. After this, a sample from every urine should be collected for the next 24 hours.

Make sure to store the urine container in a cool environment - you can also keep it in a refrigerator. Label the container properly with your name, and date and time of collection of the sample. 

After the sample has been collected (in the time period of 24 hours), it must be taken to the laboratory for analysis. 

If the test is being performed on an infant, then the area around their urethral opening must be washed thoroughly and the urine collection bag must be placed appropriately on the infant to avoid spillage. The collected sample should be delivered to the laboratory for analysis as soon as the collection is complete.

During the process of collection, ascertain that the sample is free from any contaminants such as blood or faecal matter. 

Normal results:

Mercury urine levels of less than 2 mcg (micrograms) per 24 hours are considered safe and may mean that you have no health problems related to this heavy metal. 

Abnormal results:

Higher than normal levels of mercury in the urine may indicate mercury poisoning. 

A mercury level in the urine greater than 50 mcg/24 hours is considered toxic and requires treatment. 

Further testing may be needed to determine the exact form of mercury to which you have been exposed to.

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.

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References

  1. United States Environment Protection Agency [internet]. Washington D.C. (U.S.A.). Health Effects of Exposures to Mercury
  2. World Health Organization [Internet]. Geneva (SUI): World Health Organization; Mercury and health
  3. Pagana, Kathleen D. & Pagana, Timothy J. Mosby’s Diagnostic and Laboratory Test Reference. 5th edition. Mosby, Inc., Saint Louis, MO.
  4. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry [internet]. Center for Disease Control. Atlanta. GA. U.S. Mercury and Your health
  5. Sue YJ. Mercury. In: Hoffman RS, Howland MA, Lewin NA, Nelson LS, Goldfrank LR, eds. Goldfranks’s Toxicologic Emergencies. 10th edition. New York NY: McGraw-Hill Medical: chap 98.
  6. University of Rochester Medical Center [Internet]. Rochester (NY): University of Rochester Medical Center; Mercury (Urine)
  7. Lee R, Middleton D, Caldwell K et al.,A review of events which expose children to elemental Mercury in the United States. Environ Health Perspect 2009; 117(6): 871-878. PMID: 19590676.
  8. Bjorkman L, Lundekvam BF, et al., Mercury in human brain, blood and muscle and toenails in relation to exposure: an autopsy study. Environ Health. 2007 Oct 11;6:30. PMID: 17931423.