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Having your blood drawn for a medical test or donating blood is likely to happen at some point in your life. Both processes are similar and usually less painful than most people expect.

Ahead of the Lab Draws

Knowing if you need to follow special instructions before a blood draw is important. Some tests require that you fast (don’t eat or drink anything) for a certain period of time. Others don’t.

Even if you don’t have any special instructions other than an arrival time, there are still some steps you can take to simplify the process:

Make sure to drink plenty of water before your appointment. When you’re hydrated, your blood volume goes up and makes the veins plumper and it’s easier for nurses to access. Eat a healthy meal before going in. Choosing an appropriate meal with plenty of protein and whole grains can help prevent light-headedness after giving blood. Wear layers or something shorter-sleeved to make getting a vein simpler. If you’re donating platelets, stop taking aspirin two days beforehand in order to reduce any chances of complications. If someone is drawing blood from your arm, you might want to mention which one you like better as they position themselves for the needle.

Lab Draws Procedure

Depending on the amount of blood needed, a blood draw can take a little while.

Donating blood, for example, can take about 10 minutes, while obtaining a small amount of blood for a sample can take just a few minutes.

This general procedure will be followed regardless of who is drawing the blood and for what reason:

Ask you to expose one arm and then place a tight elastic band known as a tourniquet around that limb. This makes the veins back up with blood and easier to identify. Identify a vein that appears easy to access, specifically a large, visible vein. They may feel a vein to assess the borders and how large they may be. Clean the targeted vein with an alcohol pad. It’s possible they may have difficulty accessing the vein when they insert the needle. If this is the case, they may need to try another vein. Insert a needle successfully into the skin to access the vein. The needle is usually connected to special tubing or a syringe to collect blood. Release the tourniquet and remove the needle from the arm, applying gentle pressure with a gauze or bandage to prevent further bleeding. The person drawing blood will likely cover the puncture site with a bandage. Some blood product types may take longer to donate. This is true for a special type of blood donation known as apheresis. A person donating via this method is providing blood that can be separated into further components, such as platelets or plasma.

Relax and Stay Calm

The process of drawing blood should be fast and painless, but some people may feel nervous about being stuck with a needle or seeing their own blood.

Keep calm and minimize these reactions by following these tips:

Focus on taking deep, full breaths before getting a blood draw. By focusing on your breathing, you can relieve mental tension and naturally relax your body.

Take your headphones and listen to music before and during the draw. This allows you to block out an environment that might otherwise make you feel nervous. Have the person taking your blood tell you to look away before they bring a needle near your arm. Ask if there are devices or methods the person drawing blood can use to minimize discomfort.

The person drawing your blood has likely seen nervous individuals about to have their blood drawn before. Explain your concerns, and they can help walk you through what to expect.

Are there any Side Effects from Lab Draws?

The majority of lab blood draws cause minimal side effects. However, you may experience the following:

Bleeding, bruising, lightheadedness, rash, soreness, or skin irritation from tape or adhesive from a bandage. Most of these will subside quickly. A clean, dry gauze should be used to hold pressure on a puncture site for at least five minutes if bleeding persists. If bandages continue to soak and the site continues to bleed, consult your doctor.

In addition, you should seek medical help if you develop a large blood clot known as a hematoma at the puncture site. A large hematoma can block blood flow to tissues. However, smaller hematomas often disappear on their own.

Following the blood draw

There are still steps you can take after having a small amount of blood drawn to enhance how you feel:

Keep your bandage or band-aid on for the recommended amount of time (unless you experience skin irritation at the puncture site). This is usually at least 4 to 6 hours after your blood draw. You may need to leave it on longer if you are on blood-thinning medications. Refrain from doing any vigorous exercise, which could stimulate blood flow and may cause bleeding from the site. Eat foods rich in iron, such as leafy green vegetables like spinach or iron-fortified cereals. These can help replenish lost iron stores to build your blood supply back up.

You can apply an ice pack or cloth-covered ice pack to your arm or hand if you have soreness or bruising at the puncture site. Take some energy-boosting snacks, such as cheese and crackers and a handful of nuts like peanuts (if not allergic), or a turkey sandwich. In case you experience any symptoms that you’re worried about and they are out of the ordinary, call your doctor or the location that did your blood draw.

The process of drawing blood and donating blood should be painless and side-effect-free.

The American Red Cross or your local hospital can direct you to a blood donation site if you are interested in donating blood.

Discuss any concerns you may have with the person taking your blood. There are many ways to soothe nerves and make the process easier.

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