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How to make bloodwork painless?
June 20, 2006 1:24 PM   Subscribe

Getting Blood Drawn- Getting a Shot- Do you find it painful? any tricks?

When you go to have blood drawn or when you get a shot of any sort, do you feel just a little "pinch" or major pain, white-and-going-to-faint style?

and are there any tricks you would suggest to make it less painful?

some obvious ones people use:

1) look away
2) drink water (if this helps is debateable- it makes the skin "wetter? -or it makes the blood thinner?)
3) eating or drinking something before, when possible?
4) putting ice on the area?

also, anything that would make it more painful? for example... drinking a coffee beforehand, would that somehow (and people not being aware) would make the blood drawing or prick more painful?

medically proven facts, granny tales, alternative medicine, shark cartilage remedies... :) let's hear them!
posted by Izzmeister to Health & Fitness (56 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
I find looking away to be the single most effective one you list. If you have low blood pressure, then absolutely eat something first, even if you're only getting a little bit of blood drawn.

As far as blood draws go, a good enough phlebotomist plus looking away will mean you won't even feel it.
posted by pdb at 1:28 PM on June 20, 2006


People do always say "look away." I'm highly nervous when I'm having blood drawn, and I think the process is sort of interesting, so I'd always ignored that advice. Eventually I found out that it worked, though, at least for me.
posted by transona5 at 1:29 PM on June 20, 2006


i give blood almost religiously, and sometimes platelets and plasma, so i get stuck a lot. i do not like needles at all, though, but i've found a good way to ignore it - after all, it's just the needle going in that hurts, not the needle in the vein for 20 minutes (or 2.5 hours, if you're giving multiple products). This is it: TALK. Have a conversation with the person taking blood. Ask them about their job - learn as much as you can - don't just try to ignore the pain, actually get into a real, substantive conversation. You'll never notice the needle.

For me, the tiny fingerprick to test iron levels is more annoying than the big old needle going into my arm! I hate to mention this to my wife, though, as she's diabetic and checks her blood sugar with a fingerprick maybe 3 times a day.
posted by luriete at 1:30 PM on June 20, 2006


Also, phlebotomists have used pediatric needles on me; I can't remember if that helped or not, but it could be worth a try.
posted by transona5 at 1:30 PM on June 20, 2006


It's not mind-bending pain, but every time I give blood (which I do regularly), it definitely hurts. I can't look at the needle. And I always feel like I'm getting sucked inside out -- which is probably mostly psychological. But there's a constant, dull throbbing pain until the whole thing is over.

Drinking water helps a lot. It makes your veins easier to find, so you don't get poked as many times, or so I've been told multiple times by different folks who've taken my blood.

Anecdotally, I've noticed that being well hydrated makes a huge difference when giving blood, too. It seems to go much faster.

When donating blood, don't cross your legs. It comes out more quickly -- I guess the circulation is better?

Applying steady pressure to the puncture point for at least a couple of minutes after the needle comes out tends to help with healing. The few times I haven't done this, I've ended up with worse bruises.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 1:32 PM on June 20, 2006


I absolutely look away (this includes looking away from any needles or tubes in the room -- I'll try to look at something decorative, like a poster) and hum a cheery song or chat with the phlebotomist about something completely unrelated. Also, I try to make sure to have eaten something within the previous hour or two, otherwise I'm likely to feel faint (and once fainted outright). Nine times out of ten it just feels like a little pinch (I actually dislike the sensation of the needle coming out more than going in) if the technician is any good.
posted by scody at 1:35 PM on June 20, 2006


Oh, and for some reason, getting an actual shot (like flu vaccination) doesn't bug me in the slightest -- I can totally look at the needle in that case. The above technique is only necessary when I have blood drawn.
posted by scody at 1:37 PM on June 20, 2006


I was a freelance phlebotomist at my former lab.

Technique is the biggy. Some people just suck at sticking needles into others. Nurses have this joke, "Doctors can't tap a vein worth a crap - they practice on oranges. Nurses practice on each other."

If you're really worried, as for "embla," it's a topical analgesic, kind of like novocaine, but for puncture sites.

Also, some needles are more "polished" than others - that is, they slide in and out with less friction, which can avoid the squicky "rubbing freshly dishwashered tupperware" feeling.

Oh - don't tense up, especially for intramuscular injections. Relax. The needles are your friend.
posted by porpoise at 1:38 PM on June 20, 2006


I get a lot of shots - allergy therapy - and I've found that the single biggest factor is the doctor. The nice one not only uses the smallest possible needle to stick me, she also switches needle tips after filling the syringe from the bottle. (Because apparently poking through the rubber seal on the top can blunt the needle.) I hardly even notice her injections. Then there's the old guy who's been a doctor for fifty years, and he just doesn't give a crap. He uses whatever needle he's got, doesn't switch the tip, and just whacks it into my arm without even swabbing the area first. I think he goes too deep too; I always end up throbbing afterwards. So find a good doctor!

And never look. I can't stand looking.
posted by web-goddess at 1:39 PM on June 20, 2006


The best things I've found when giving blood are:
(1) the already mentioned looking away
(2) focusing on and controlling my breathing. I've found that just listening to/feeling myself take regular, full breaths makes it all go a lot faster.
(3) talking to someone while it happens. Just a distraction, I know, but it works. (For me.)
posted by inigo2 at 1:40 PM on June 20, 2006


If the person giving the shot rubs or taps the skin around where the needle will go in, it distracts you from feeling the needle so much. I got an almost entirely painless flu shot last year with this technique.
posted by bisesi at 1:41 PM on June 20, 2006


I HATE having blood drawn, but I don't find it painful, just intensely uncomfortable. I look away, try to make small talk, and insist that they use that butterfly thing. If they don't use the butterfly thing, I end up with collapsed veins. I also tell the whoever's drawing my blood that I don't like it, which usually means that they try harder to distract me.
posted by amarynth at 1:43 PM on June 20, 2006


I like to watch. Ever since I was a kid, I've been fascinated by the concept of using this pointy thing to put things in you or take things out of you. I've had people actually try to block me from watching. I want to know exactly when and where the needle is going in. It has never been painful before yesterday(now, particularly long needles trigger a gag reflex after about an inch).

If you have a low pain threshold, avoid having blood taken from the top of your hand.

One thing I learned last night, though, is that if I am nervous, upset or afraid, it does hurt. And if you are shaking, chances are they may not get the vein on the first shot.
posted by zerokey at 1:45 PM on June 20, 2006


Giving blood for me is much easier when I let out a deep breath just as they are putting the needle in. I watch since the anticipation of the poke is more intense than tha actual poke.

I also give myself intramuscular (IM) and sub-cutaneous (SubQ) shots for regular medicines I take and for that, ice, shot location and the smallest needle work well.

IM is just a jab into my thigh which doesn't really hurt, and SubQ goes into my stomach which I don't even feel. Both areas rubbed with ice for about 30 seconds before.
posted by karmaville at 1:45 PM on June 20, 2006


I hate it. I just center my mind and think of nothing until it is over.
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:46 PM on June 20, 2006


"drink water (if this helps is debateable- it makes the skin 'wetter? -or it makes the blood thinner?)"

It certainly helps to be well hydrated. If you're dehydrated, it'll be harder for the phlebotomist to find a vein.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:47 PM on June 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


For me (I'm the nervous type too), it helps to find a distraction during the actual 'stick'. Usually it's no biggie after all - the buildup is much worse - but I can't seem to help it anyway.

ONE TIME, though, the (inexperienced) nurse hit something and it felt like lightning ran up my arm. Since then, I've been even more nervous. Now I always ask for a particular nurse who I know will do it right, and she has never disappointed me yet.

I can't imagine getting used to it, though. croutonsupafreak, I like your suggestions, I'll try them next time!
posted by Bobtheordinary at 1:51 PM on June 20, 2006


I have major, major blood-drawing phobia (so much so that reading this thread is making me feel weird.) But sometimes it has to be done.

I have really deep veins, so I tell the phlebotomist that I need blood drawn from my hand instead of my elbow. This is usually followed by a phlebotomist trying to get a good vein in my elbow and then going "Huh." Which we could have avoided, but whatever.

So I usually end up getting blood drawn from the back of my hand with a butterfly needle. The last time I had it done, I almost passed out while sitting up so they moved me to a room with a bed. I was able to lie down and look away. Talking helped too. It still wigged me out, but the bed really made a difference.
posted by sugarfish at 1:55 PM on June 20, 2006


aaaaaaaaaaah. hate hate hate.

My best solution so far was when I was getting the nth blood drawing for mono - they'd already mucked up the veins in my right arm, and I started crying from being nervous, in pain, and sick. The very, very sweet nurse took one look at me, cut my pinky finger, and 'milked' it to get enough for the smear test. (She used to be a pediatric nurse, and apparently that's where she got the trick)

Anyway - if you can't find a nurse to take pity on you, I've found that super-hydrating helped. I'm still never goint to die of blood loss, but it made it less painful.
posted by kalimac at 1:56 PM on June 20, 2006


Bloodwork doesn't bother me at all, but the last time I had arterial blood taken, the doctor told me they tell people to cough as the needle goes in as it is supposed to lessen the pain.

Personally, I prefer to stay as still as possible when someone is sticking a needle into one of my arteries.
posted by sarahw at 1:59 PM on June 20, 2006


The only time giving blood (or in this case, getting blood tests done) has hurt more than a pinch was when I was very dehydrated and the nurse couldn't get my unusually-skinny vein to stay still. When my veins are their normal thickness from being decently hydrated, I have no problem.

I doubt drinking water would help if you were already well-hydrated, but it can't hurt.
posted by joannemerriam at 2:01 PM on June 20, 2006


First you have to make the following joke: I don't really have to be here for this, do I?

Then you have to *pretend that you're not*. Look away, visualize the place you'd rather be, whatever. By the time you get yourself to a beach in Hawaii the needle will be in and it's all downhill.

There is a psychological literature suggesting that pain recedes if you focus attention on it. But, I don't think this will work for just the brief experience of a minor skin puncture.
posted by cogneuro at 2:01 PM on June 20, 2006


I recently had to have two anesthetic injections THROUGH my big toe. Turns out your toe has nerves at the top and bottom, so the easiest way to get them is to just go straight through. I was reading a book, looking away, and humming a tune in my head, and I still almost passed out/puked from the pain. In my experience, all you can do is suck it up and hope it is over soon.
posted by Orange Goblin at 2:06 PM on June 20, 2006


If you're really worried, as for "embla," it's a topical analgesic...

EMLA. Though do note that you need to make the request well in advance, as it's a prescription cream that takes about 15 minutes to apply and then an hour to take effect.

Here's a list of some other options for the very scared.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 2:06 PM on June 20, 2006


I just had blood drawn today. Needles do not bother me in the least -- don't ask me why. I watch them do it with no problems.

It seems like you might try watching them, as your sense of dread and the "surprise" of not knowing when it's coming might actually make it worse.

It's a good thing it doesn't bother me, since nurses ALWAYS have problems getting a vein. They just try over and over and over again -- many needle pricks -- trying the other arm, etc. I once had someone try for what seemed like 15 minutes -- they finally had to resort to doing it in my hand, which actually hurt much worse than the arm.
posted by jca at 2:11 PM on June 20, 2006


Breathe consciously -- full deep connected breaths -- while they are getting ready. Don't tense up -- use your outbreaths to relax your face, shoulders, belly, and butt muscles.

Hold your breath right before the shot, and release your breath with the first sensation. Make a sound, like a hum or a groan (warn the tech first).

By the time you've emptied your lungs, the worst of the pain will be over.
posted by ottereroticist at 2:29 PM on June 20, 2006


Relax. It only hurts if you're tense.

Easier said than done but it's the only truth I know. I got way used to needles getting allergy shots as a child. They hurt so bad until a kind nurse got me to make my arm floppy. Then, it was a breeze.
posted by agregoli at 2:36 PM on June 20, 2006 [1 favorite]


Second (third?) Emla. They also make a patch. I don't use it, but my child assures me that it works well
posted by Neiltupper at 2:41 PM on June 20, 2006


I don't usually mind needles too much, but for some reason a doctor once thought that I did, and used a trick that worked so well I wasn't aware of when I was stuck at all. He had an assistant pour a stream of cold water over the injection site as he stuck the needle in, while I was looking away. I guess the sensation of the cold water masked the needle pain somehow.
posted by hades at 2:56 PM on June 20, 2006


I hate, hate, hate getting blood drawn. I hate needles in me anywhere, really. One big thing I always do is tell the nurse just how squeamish I am - they usually make an effort to be gentle or distract me, either out of compassion or just out of a desire for me not to jerk while they're trying to work.

I also sing under my breath, usually a church hymn or a song from years ago or something else that I only half-remember. It gives me something else to concentrate on. The pain isn't the worst part for me - it's the knowledge that a needle is inside me.
posted by christinetheslp at 3:16 PM on June 20, 2006


As to getting blood drawn, it always "pinches", less so when I drink lots of water beforehand.

For shots, assuming that it's in an arm, relax the shoulder of the arm getting the shot and raise the other one. That should make the target arm completely relaxed and, for me, eliminates all the pain.
posted by donpardo at 3:35 PM on June 20, 2006


When the needle actually goes in, I look away but I also wiggle my toes - having to concentrate on doing something else physical, however minor, seems to help. For giving blood, it's the feel of the warm tube of blood lying partly across my arm that freaks me out, not the sight of the blood or anything like that. My answer to that one is usually to silently recite poems inside my head.
posted by andraste at 3:42 PM on June 20, 2006


"rubbing freshly dishwashered tupperware" feeling
This has got to be the most spot on description of the feeling I have ever read.

I tend to have more pain when they take the needle out-- like some blood has coagulated around the tip, and pulling it through the small hole where the needle went in hurts quite a bit. Nothing I have ever tried works for that.

However, when I used to get shots in the upper hip/bum area, the nurse told me to pigeon my feet. The normally painful shot was absolutely painless.
posted by oflinkey at 3:49 PM on June 20, 2006


just don't look.
posted by brandz at 4:53 PM on June 20, 2006


EMLA cream needs to be applied well in advance (about one hour) before the blood draw/injection, and is effective. There are also topical sprays that can be applied just before the needle goes in.

If your veins are small or hard to find, hydrating by drinking lots of water and applying warm water or a warm pack to the site helps make veins more visible, as does tapping vigorously over the vein (the nurse or phlebotomist can do this). Keeping the extremity dependent also helps. Using a butterfly is also a good option for tricky or scarred veins.

The technique and experience of the nurse or phlebotomist also makes a big difference. Talking and other distractors also help decrease anxiety and pain as well - the pain of a needle stick is relatively small (unless you are getting certain kinds of injections), but it's the anticipation that makes it rough.

If you have trouble with bruising, Coflex bandages left on for 10 - 15 minutes after the blood draw can really help.
posted by tuff at 5:02 PM on June 20, 2006


i faint whenever I get a shot or blood drawn. I never have a good time, but I try to find a spot on the wall and focus. That has worked occasionally--at least no fainting.
posted by sweetkid at 5:05 PM on June 20, 2006


I don't have a problem with the needles when I give blood, but the nurses (technicians?) sometimes have trouble finding a good vein on me. When they have to poke around, it hurts more. As mentioned above, being well-hydrated is very important for avoiding this. And that means drinking extra water for several days before giving blood, not just the day of.

Also, I found that giving platelets hurts less than giving whole blood. Just an anecdote, I have no idea why this would be.

One tip for avoiding extra pricks when donating: if you know that you are consistently on the low end of normal for the iron count test, tell the technician. They can then bypass the liquid test and go right to the machine test, which is more accurate. One finger prick, instead of two.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:11 PM on June 20, 2006


A friend who worked in an extended care home used to grab the patient's hand and pinch the hokku point, the nerve point where the thumb bone goes into the hand, and it would distract them from feeling any needles going in at the same time. I don't know if this would work on oneself.

I'm blasé about the blood-donation needle myself. What I dislike is the preliminary finger-stick they always do. Go figure.
posted by zadcat at 5:14 PM on June 20, 2006


The original submitter mentioned, but no one has picked up on, using ice. I think an ice cube on the area for a minute or two is the single best bet.

The EMLA cream is a bust, IMHO. It takes an HOUR to work, and if you try to cut that time short, it actually seems to sensitize the skin - hurts more. I don't have an hour to wait for anesthetic.

You can also ask for a smaller needle. Going to a smaller gauge needle will hurt less, and take longer.
posted by jellicle at 5:22 PM on June 20, 2006


I'm told by nurses that I have Good Veins. And I feel no pain if a good practitioner draws the blood. However, I hate hate hate having blood drawn. As a child I had to be held down by three adults, and even now, I feel faint and have to lie or sit for a while before I can get up and move on. It's pretty embarassing for a grown man, but there you are. I suspect that if I needed blood drawn regularly, I'd toughen up.

My recommendations:
- get a middle-aged nurse. One who's had a lot of practise. Let the young ones learn on someone else.
- make small talk. Gabble. Talk about something, anything, to the nurse.
- get a glass of water lined up for immediately after.

I have no problem with injections. They ache a little, but so what?
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:26 PM on June 20, 2006


A friend who worked in an extended care home used to grab the patient's hand and pinch the hokku point, the nerve point where the thumb bone goes into the hand, and it would distract them from feeling any needles going in at the same time. I don't know if this would work on oneself.

My (very old-school) pediatrician would pinch his patient on the opposite shoulder - hard! - right as he slid the needle in. With the element of surprise, you didn't feel a thing.
posted by anjamu at 5:33 PM on June 20, 2006


I find a lot depends on the skill of the nurse or doctor doing it- the ones at the blood donation centre I go to are brilliant, they talk to you while they're doing it and I don't even notice that it's happening most of the time. Some less-practised ones in hospital have been awful.

Talking definitely helps.
posted by twirlypen at 5:34 PM on June 20, 2006


Also, I don't find the pain to be any more than a tiny pinch. I have a pretty high pain tolerance, so that might be it, but I'd rather needles than a lot of other medical procedures.
posted by anjamu at 5:35 PM on June 20, 2006


Cough. Really. It sends a signal to your brain blocking pain. So cough as the needle goes in.
posted by Jandasmo at 5:38 PM on June 20, 2006


I second the looking away and hydration suggestions.

My veins can be a bit tricky for some people and getting stuck and missing the vein is annoying. One of the things I've noticed is that it pays to be up-front and honest about it. They can either:

1: Pass you off to the "one stick" nurse who can draw blood from a turnip blindfolded.
2: Use a butterfly needle which takes longer but is easier to get in.
3: Take more care in looking at your veins and possibly selecting an alternate way to draw blood.

Chances are, one arm is going to be better than the other. It pays to figure out which one.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:05 PM on June 20, 2006


I had an injection once, and the doctor told me beforehand `This is a large injection, and quite painful. They even put some anaesthetic at the beginning of the syringe to lessen it a bit!'.

Being nervous already, this just made me super nervous.

It didn't hurt at all.

The trick, I find, is to do your best to relax the muscles where the injection is going. Make your arm a limp noodle and don't watch.
posted by tomble at 6:24 PM on June 20, 2006


I used to get something in the hip, and a nurse taught me to lay down, it relaxes the hip muscles. It works fine.
I've donated 12 gallons of blood through a really crappy vein (only have one, sorry) and I always explain to the nurse about this vein (it rolls, it's got 12 gallons worth of scar tissue on it, and there's a valve you sometimes can't feel in there). They always go get the best, oldest nurse they have, she lines up the thing like a diamond-cutter, and that's it. I very rarely even feel it, and they use a needle the size of electrical conduit.
I always talk while they do the survey, and it helps. They are pretty much ignoring you anyway.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 7:10 PM on June 20, 2006


Did you know that a lot of the pain from getting a needle stick is not from the needle, but from residual alcohol they've used to swab you going in with the needle?

Get your tech to use a sterile gauze to toroughly dry off the alcohol before the needle goes in. The difference is pretty astounding.

I need to get blood drawn monthly. Trust me.

Also, honestly, some techs are just really really good.

You can request a butterfly for a draw which can have smaller needles. It's also nice because the tube from the needle to the drawing unit provides a buffer so you don't feel a jab when the vial gets snapped on.
posted by plinth at 7:17 PM on June 20, 2006


I read somewhere that if you can over stimulate one of your other senses,the sense of touch will not be so acute. I now look at the brightest light in the room and have noticed a significant difference in the amount of pain I feel when getting shots at the dentist.
posted by haikuku at 7:30 PM on June 20, 2006


Good heavens, whatever you do, DON'T LET THE NURSE take your blood unless he's/she's got a lot pf phlebotomy experience. I do not faint but the one time I let the nurses at the doctor's office attempt (3 tries and nothing), I nearly fainted.

Talking about something else helps too.

I always ask if the person is a phlebotomist... when I was at the ER about 2 months ago, the girl laughed and said, "we're not going to have someone come in off the street to take your blood!" Cute, but my point was, she wasn't a nurse, she was a phlebotomist. Pediatric needles are good too, unless you have deep veins like me.

They always have trouble finding a vein, but to me, worse than the back of the hand is taking it from the wrist. I won't let them do it anymore.
posted by IndigoRain at 8:29 PM on June 20, 2006


My doctor hates needles. He says he finds it helps if he pinches himself hard on the opposite side of his body from the one where the needle's getting stuck in him.

Personally I don't mind them too much. If I start to worry, I just remind myself of all the accidental bumps and cuts we all get that hurt worse than needles do.
posted by flabdablet at 11:38 PM on June 20, 2006


I used to dislike getting shots and getting blood taken -- not so much because of the pain, but because of the uncomfortable there's-something-in-my-body-that-shouldn't-be feeling. I never had a phobia about it; I just disliked it, but now I've become pretty used to it, thanks to weekly allergy shots.

I always look away. I know there's something going into my body; I don't need my eyes to tell me as well as my skin. I try to read a far-away poster that requires concentration or squinting.

Best yet is if you can get someone to tell you a joke or riddle. The person taking your blood is concentrating on that (and you want him/her to be). If you have someone coming with you, though, ask them in advance to have a joke or riddle ready. They should ask just before the needle goes in, so you're thinking about possible answers and not about the needle.
posted by booksandlibretti at 12:03 PM on June 21, 2006


I just remembered: I know someone who uses delicious RSS feeds to keep track of the bookmarks of people he professionally admires. I gather the RSS feeds read kind of like a blog in the style of Romeneskso, because each new link appears with brief commentary, and was selected by someone with specific taste.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:05 PM on June 21, 2006


I have no idea how I accidentally posted this comment here. Very sorry.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:31 PM on June 21, 2006


I absolutely hate getting stuck. To me, there is nothing worse that I have come across (in my experience). I've tried all sorts of distraction techniques (but I've seen some good ones in this thread that I'll have to try next time), and nothing really works.
I think some of it has to go with when I've gotten stuck in the past. Once it was an inch and a half deep gash in my leg where they jabbed the fucking needle into the side of the gaping wound and the other was 6 separate shots into my middle finger.

*twitches*
posted by sperose at 8:44 PM on June 21, 2006


I really don't mind needles along as I don't see them.
When I have an injection or have blood taken the person doing always wonders why I am looking away before they even anywhere near me with the needle. I just can't bare to see them. I don't care that there sticking it into me but I see the needle I tend to want to run out of the room.

So tip #1, don't look.

Another time when I was being prepared for major surgery, it took 3 anesthetists 5 goes to get an IV line started and since they inject local anesthetic first I ended up being stuck 10 times in 5 minutes. For the whole ordeal at least one person was talking to me if not two.

Tip #2, Get someone to talk to you

The dentist, a lot of dentists tend to either hind the needle from you or wave it around in front of you. Neither is a good idea. Tell you're dentist you don't like needles and that you would prefer for them to tell when it is coming so you can close your eyes before it's anywhere near you.

Tip # 3, Talk about your fear/phobia/hate

And finally, RELAX.
Relax all your muscles and take slow deep breathes it really does help.
posted by skipper5000 at 6:32 PM on June 25, 2006


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