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Methylene blue test

Definition

The methylene blue test is used to determine the type of the blood disorder, methemoglobinemia.

How the test is performed

The health care provider wraps a tourniquet or blood pressure cuff around your upper arm. This creates pressure that causes veins below the area to fill with blood.

After cleaning the area with a germ killer (antiseptic), the person performing the test will place a needle into your vein, usually near the inside of the elbow or back of the hand. A thin tube, called a catheter, is then placed into the vein. (It may be called an IV, which means intravenous.) While the tube stays in place, the needle and tourniquet are removed.

A dark green powder called methylene blue goes through the tube into your vein. The health care provider looks at how the powder turns a substance in the blood called methemoglobin into normal hemoglobin.

How to prepare for the test

No special preparation is required for this test.

How the test will feel

When the needle is inserted, you may feel moderate pain or a stinging sensation. Afterward, there may be some throbbing.

Why the test is performed

There are several types of blood. One of them is methemoglobin. Normal methemoglobin levels in blood are usually around 1%. At higher levels, it can cause illness because it cannot carry oxygen. Because of its lower oxygen content, methemoglobinemia blood looks brown, rather than red.

Methemoglobinemia has several causes, many of which are genetic. This test is used to tell the difference between methemoglobinemia caused by the lack of an enzyme in the blood called cytochrome b5 reductase and other types that are passed down through families (inherited). Methemoglobinemia can also be caused by exposure to certain drugs, and chemical substances such as nitrates in water.

This test helps your health care provider develop a plan of care.

Normal Values

Normally, methylene blue rapidly lowers the levels of methemoglobin in the blood.

Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Talk to your doctor about the meaning of your specific test results.

What abnormal results mean

If methylene blue does not significantly lower blood levels of methemoglobin, the health care provider will suspect a rare form of inherited methemoglobinemia.

What the risks are

Veins and arteries vary in size from one patient to another and from one side of the body to the other. Inserting an IV may be more difficult for you or your child than for other people.

Other risks associated with this type of blood test are minor, but may include:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Fainting or feeling light-headed
  • Hematoma (blood accumulating under the skin)
  • Infection (a slight risk any time the skin is broken, but the chances of infection increase the longer the IV remains in the vein)

Review Date: 10/15/2008
Reviewed By: Diana Chambers, MS, EdD, Certified Genetics Counselor (ABMG), Charter Member of the ABGC, University of Tennessee, Memphis, TN. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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