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What do blood cobalt levels tell your doctor?

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Quick Answer

Blood cobalt levels help doctors diagnose cobalt poisoning or keep track of cobalt therapy, reports Quest Diagnostics. Normal blood cobalt levels are usually up to 1.8 micrograms per liter. Acute cobalt exposure causes symptoms such as allergy, pulmonary fibrosis, vomiting and nausea, while chronic exposure causes coughing, dyspnea, allergic dermatitis and nausea.

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Doctors evaluate toxic cobalt consumption or occupational cobalt exposure by interpreting blood cobalt levels, explains ARUP Laboratories. Physicians obtain serum as a specimen when assessing cobalt toxicity in patients with metal-on-metal joint implants, which may cause poisoning by releasing metal ions. For other patients, transporting 7 milliliters of whole blood in a collection tube is necessary for the blood cobalt test.

Cobalt poisoning results from exposure to significant amounts of the element through ingestion, inhalation or regular contact with the skin, states MedlinePlus. Natural wear and tear of certain hip implants made from cobalt and chromium may also lead to cobalt toxicity.

Cobalt poisoning is common among industrial workers whose jobs involve processes that discharge dust particles with cobalt into the atmosphere, reports MedlinePlus. Constantly inhaling these particles for a long time leads to chronic lung problems and breathing difficulty. Patients who suffer cobalt toxicity from skin contact tend to experience rashes and skin irritation. Treatment for cobalt poisoning depends on the type of exposure and may involve breathing medications, hemodialysis or removal of metal implants.

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