My veins suck
November 14, 2006 10:00 PM   Subscribe

How can I make drawing blood easier?

I am one of those people that it is difficult to draw blood from. Its hard to find a vein, and even when one is found, it usually yields very little, if anything. The usual procedure is that I warn the nurse of this, they use a butterfly needle, and after trying both arms twice they sometimes go in through the back of my hand. The whole procedure usually ends up taking half an hour or more. When I used to give blood they eventually told me not to come back as it wasn't worth all the time to get less than half a bag!

I took this is as an occasional inconvenience, since I am not scared of needles, and it doesn't really hurt much. However, now that I am having regular blood tests I would like to make the procedure easier and less time-consuming for everyone involved (I feel bad for the nurse mostly!). Is there anything I can do beforehand to increase the volume of my veins, or bring them to the surface? Would exercising shortly beforehand help?
posted by Joh to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This thread has some pointers. People have told me drinking lots of water helps quite a bit.
posted by null terminated at 10:10 PM on November 14, 2006

Best answer: Exercising probably won't do too much, but null terminated is right that drinking lots and lots of water will--the better hydrated you are, the plumper your veins will be and the easier it'll be to find them. Drink steadily all day, and about twenty minutes before the draw, drink half a liter or so. That'll definitely help.

Similarly, warmth will help, so if you're usually cold, bundle up before the blood draw so your veins aren't constricting. Occasionally I'll put a hot pack on the area I'm going to draw if I think I'm going to have trouble getting at the vein; you might offer to hold one over the vein while the person drawing the blood is getting all the needles/tubes/etc. together before the draw.
posted by jesourie at 10:13 PM on November 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'm using my college bio 101 skills here, but as I recall one of the ways the body regulates blood volume is with a variety of hormones like ADH (anti diuretic hormone) and other techniques because the water you ingest directly affects blood volume. However, I'm not sure even a large amount of water would swell your veins for long enough that it would become easier for the phlebotomist to draw blood before you would pee that water right out. Note also, this ingestion of large amounts of water also affects your blood pressure.

Ask your phlebotomist or doctor, I'm sure they've encountered this before and have some tips to offer.
posted by jourman2 at 10:26 PM on November 14, 2006

Water, water and more water.

That said, I am also one of those people that they can't draw blood from. I once went to donate, and my haemoglobin was one point out of the acceptable range. They offered to do a blood test on me then and there and couldn't even get enough blood out to do that. Even the top nurse had no luck.
posted by cholly at 10:58 PM on November 14, 2006

That reminds me; time to donate blood!
posted by Deathalicious at 11:12 PM on November 14, 2006

I've had a couple phlebotomists thank me for being well hydrated when I've donated blood. They noticed something and asked how much I drink per day and commented that it made their job easier.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 11:16 PM on November 14, 2006

Don't ever let a nurse touch you unless she's had phlebotomy training. I speak as a former student nurse (didn't finish, wasn't for me) and as someone with deep veins.
posted by IndigoRain at 11:23 PM on November 14, 2006

1) Be well hydrated, as mentioned above.

2) Think about just suggesting the back of the hand to the nurse/technician. I am the same way; they always end up digging around for a while elsewhere when they finally go, "fine, we'll try to the hand, but it'll /really/ hurt!" and I'm always just wishing that they had done that in the first place.
posted by rossination at 11:37 PM on November 14, 2006

try and find out beforehand who is the nurse that is the good one at drawing blood. some people are better at it than others (it's a skill) - ask around and notice who the chronic blood testers wait around for to draw their blood.
posted by mirileh at 12:53 AM on November 15, 2006

Are you already clenching your fist to bring the veins to the surface? They should be telling you that, but you didn't mention it. You don't want to do this for some blood tests, apparently, but for donating blood it should be good. Clench your fist before they start looking for the veins in that elbow, and relax within a minute, or once the blood starts to flow, whichever's sooner.

They should also already be offering to use a tourniquet around your upper arm. Both of these should be the first things they try -- it's really strange if no nurse has suggested either.
posted by booksandlibretti at 5:08 AM on November 15, 2006

Tell them to just go for the back of the hand first. If you can, soak your hands in warm/hot water before the blood test.
posted by WyoWhy at 5:58 AM on November 15, 2006

Best answer: Be super hydrated and take a really warm shower as close as possible to the time that you'll be donating blood. I'm on a platelets/whole blood every four weeks donation cycle so I've tried all the tricks in the books to get the donation cycle to go as quickly as possible, since it usually takes two to three hours, but I've been able to shave off up to an hour if I have a pretty intense work out before hand and then take a boiling hot shower. It really works to my advantage that my donation site is part of a hospital with a really nice gym, but I'm sure if you take a brisk walk around the parking lot it would work pretty well.

Also, I've heard that drinking a lot of caffiene the day of constricts your blood vessels, so drink tons and tons of water, stay away from coffee. But be careful if you're donating platelets/whole blood that you haven't drank so much that you have to be unhooked to go to the bathroom.
posted by banannafish at 7:35 AM on November 15, 2006

Best answer: I have a similar problem in that my veins are very hard to find and apparently move around a lot when they are being chased by a needle. I've found that if I spin my arm around in my shoulder socket it brings all the blood to my had by centrifical force and helps make my veins easier to manage. I know I look like an idiot, but I believe my self esteem sacrifice allows others to feel free to look like idiots without as much recrimination... I'm paving the way, so to speak, for other idiots.

I haven't heard about the hydration thing... great idea.
posted by vermontlife at 8:04 AM on November 15, 2006

I am also a tough stick. As a result of many blood draws, the nurses at my doctor's office have discovered that tying off my arm actually makes the vein "hide."
posted by candyland at 9:58 AM on November 15, 2006

Response by poster: booksandlibretti, yes they always use a tourniquet and get me to clench my fist. I didn't mention it as I assumed it was standard procedure for everyone.

Thanks for the great answers people, next time I will be drinking water and spinning my arm around while wearing my big sweater.
posted by Joh at 11:02 AM on November 15, 2006

this used to be me, after I started lifting weights regularly, I no longer had this problem. Lift weights.
posted by palegirl at 11:13 AM on November 15, 2006

i have the same problem. one time, they couldn't even get anything from my hands. they had to go in through my foot. all these suggestions are really helpful... i'll be waterlogged, and warm next time i go to the doctor.
posted by kerning at 1:11 PM on November 15, 2006

this is a wonderful question. last time i needed blood drawn, it was the most harrowing experience. apparently i have "elastic" viens and the ones in my arm just would NOT work and finally they had to take it from my hand and it hurt SO MUCH. i mean, tears rolling down my face and whimpering for my mom, pain. i will definitely be drinking lots of water and doing the arm spin trick next time!
posted by silverstatue at 1:58 PM on November 15, 2006

Lift weights. Nothing gets veins popping like that. (Especially over the long-term.)
posted by gramcracker at 4:46 PM on November 15, 2006

I usually have this problem & come home terribly bruised. But the last time I was having blood drawn the nurse put a blood pressure cuff on me & that seemed to do the trick. It seemed to work much better than the tournequet-type things they've used in the past.
posted by belladonna at 4:51 PM on November 15, 2006

This is helpful for me too. Being diabetic I have to have blood work done every three months and it's always a hassle.

Thanks for asking the question, Joh!
posted by deborah at 8:43 PM on November 15, 2006

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