A combination of history, physical examination, and laboratory studies will help reveal the cause of most poisonings. Frequently, treatment must begin before all information is available.
History: As a family member or friend of a poisoned person, you can greatly assist the doctor and provide valuable clues by telling the doctor about these details:
- Everything the person ate or drank recently
- Names of all prescription and over-the-counter medications the person is taking
- Exposure to chemicals at home or at work
- Whether others in the family or at work have been similarly ill or exposed
- Whether the person has any psychiatric history to suggest an intentional ingestion (suicide attempt)
Testing: Many poisons can be detected in the blood or urine. However, a physician cannot order "every test in the book" when the diagnosis is unclear. The tests ordered will be based on information revealed in the history and physical exam.
- A toxicology screen or "tox" screen looks for common drugs of abuse. Most toxicology screens will detect:
- A specific blood test will give serum levels of some drugs, including phenytoin (Dilantin), theophylline (Theo-Dur, Respbid, Slo-Bid, Theo-24, Theolair, Uniphyl, Slo-Phyllin), digoxin (Lanoxin), lithium (Lithobid), and acetaminophen.
- Some drugs affect the electrical activity of the heart. An electrocardiogram (ECG) may reveal toxicity.
- Sometimes a person is unconscious for no obvious reason. A CT scan of the brain will help tell if there has been a structural change in the brain, such as a stroke.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/27/2015
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