What is Phlebotomy? History, Risks, and Side Effects

Phlebotomy is the practice of drawing blood from a vein, usually in the arm, using a needle. It is a common procedure that is used for a variety of purposes, including:

  • Diagnostic testing: Blood tests can be used to diagnose a wide range of medical conditions, such as anemia, infection, and diabetes.
  • Therapeutic treatment: Phlebotomy can be used to treat certain medical conditions, such as hemochromatosis and polycythemia vera.
  • Blood donation: Blood donations are essential for life-saving medical procedures, such as transfusions and surgeries.

History of Phlebotomy

Phlebotomy is one of the oldest medical procedures, dating back to ancient Egypt. The Egyptians believed that bloodletting could cure a variety of diseases, and they used sharpened stones or reeds to make incisions in the veins of their patients.

Ancient Egyptian Phlebotomy

The practice of phlebotomy continued in Europe and Asia for centuries. In the Middle Ages, it was believed that bloodletting could balance the four humors of the body: blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. Bloodletting was also used to treat a wide range of medical conditions, including mental illness, seizures, and pain.

Medieval Phlebotomy

With the rise of scientific medicine in the 18th and 19th centuries, the practice of phlebotomy declined. However, it is still used today for a variety of medical purposes.

Risks and Side Effects of Phlebotomy

Phlebotomy is a generally safe procedure. However, there are some potential risks and side effects, including:

  • Pain or bruising at the venipuncture site
  • Infection
  • Fainting
  • Hematoma (blood clot)
  • Nerve damage

The risk of these complications is very low, and most people experience no problems after a phlebotomy.

How to Prepare for Phlebotomy

There is no special preparation required for most phlebotomy procedures. However, you may be asked to:

  • Remove any jewelry from your arm
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing
  • Let the phlebotomist know if you have any allergies or medical conditions
  • Inform the phlebotomist if you are taking any medications

You may also want to eat a light snack and drink plenty of fluids before your appointment. This will help to prevent you from feeling lightheaded or dizzy during the procedure.

What to Expect During Phlebotomy

During a phlebotomy procedure, the phlebotomist will:

  • Clean the venipuncture site with an antiseptic solution
  • Apply a tourniquet to your arm to make the vein more visible
  • Insert a needle into your vein
  • Collect the blood sample
  • Remove the needle and apply pressure to the venipuncture site
  • Bandage the venipuncture site

The entire procedure usually takes only a few minutes.

After Phlebotomy

After a phlebotomy, you may be asked to sit quietly for a few minutes to make sure you are not feeling lightheaded or dizzy. You may also be given a bandage to wear over the venipuncture site.

You should avoid strenuous activity for the rest of the day. You should also watch for any signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, or pain at the venipuncture site. If you experience any of these symptoms, please contact your doctor.


Phlebotomy is a safe and effective procedure that is used for a variety of medical purposes.