Trace Elements—Deficiency and Toxicity

People are constantly exposed to a variety of elements, whether from consumption of food or water or occupationally. Many of these elements are necessary for health, but some have no biologic function. Of the mineral elements discussed here, those that have nutritional significance are chromium, cobalt, copper, iodine, iron, manganese, nickel, selenium, and zinc. Those that are not essential to humans are antimony, aluminum, bismuth, beryllium, cadmium, lead, mercury, and thallium. Both essential and nonessential elements can be toxic when levels exceed a certain threshold. Signs and symptoms of toxicity correlate with route of exposure, specific element forms, and type of exposure, whether acute or chronic. Deficiencies of essential minerals may exist in patients with chronic illness, patients having had bariatric surgery, and preterm infants.

Laboratory tests are important in the diagnosis of metal toxicity, but they are only a part of the diagnosis; to confirm a diagnosis of exposure, a patient must have signs or symptoms consistent with the exposure, a source of exposure, and atypical concentrations of the element.  ARUP Laboratories offers element exposure testing for a variety of specimen types, as well as panel testing for common heavy metals. See Emergency Toxicology as an additional resource for testing information.

Tabs Content
Content Review: 
November 2018

Last Update: August 2019