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Surviving a Blood Test

meProblem veins 


My veins are barely civil to me since the many run-ins they’ve had with needles. Nowadays, nurses and phlebotomists must woo them to the surface.

Alas, the medical version of seduction relies on pain and punishment: slapping the poor things, tying them up, and generally dishing out a bit of tough love.

I once asked if veins ever recover, ‘One day, maybe!’ a nurse said, a little too hopefully, making me suspect quite the opposite. Another nurse said they were likely scarred.

What to Do? 

Here are some tips for making those blood tests a little less traumatic, with ideas accrued from specialists, other survivors, and the wonderful world of Pub Med.

  • Water – Be properly hydrated before the blood test. De-hydration can make veins harder to find.
  • New Eyes – Good infusion practice is for a nurse to make 2 tries at finding a vein, before asking a colleague to have a go. From experience, phlebotomists usually give it 3 tries and then look a little sheepish. Feel free to ask for a new pair of eyes.
  • The Top Dog – Training medics often struggle to find a vein in anyone, let alone cancer survivors. You don’t have to let them practice on you. It is totally in your right to request someone who has been doing the job for years. The same applies before operations. If you’ve got dodgy veins, ask that they leave it to the anaesthetist to do the vein-finding. It’s their very special skill after all. 
  • Warmth – Heat can help. Try putting a warm, wet towel on your arm for five minutes before the needle digging.
  • Alternate Arms – If you’re a regular pin cushion, use alternate arms for your tests, giving your veins a chance to recover.
  • Use the Muscles – Invest in a stress ball and use it before your appointment. It’ll work the arm muscles and get blood flowing.
  • Gravity Power – Increase the blood flowing to your veins by dangling your arms by your sides, rather than raising them in the air.
  • No Fun Stuff – Supposedly, staying away from caffeine and alcohol the day before can help.
  • Butterfly Needles – The butterfly needle is the crown jewel of the needle world. I’ve found that they can slide in without you even knowing they’re there. It seems from research, that they can be angled slightly differently and can be more superficially inserted than other needles. But the size can also come up smaller. Always request a butterfly needle if you’ve got problem veins!  

And if you want a massive geek-out on phlebotomy, here’s a feature on the topic by an expert phlebotomist.

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Heather (not verified)

Great article, I didn't even know butterfly needles were a thing! Thanks


No worries! Pleased you liked it :)


Great article, I have trouble all the time now when I have to have a blood test. Regularly tag-teamed with nurses, hca’s, doctors. I always request the crown jewel of needles, the butterfly! It hurts less when they wiggle it around trying to find blood...

Anonymous (not verified)

Great and helpful article from someone with wonky veins after lots of chemo.

Anonymous (not verified)

I'm ok with blood tests,but cannula for ct scans are a nightmare,is his the same for you?

Anne Royles (not verified)

I'm like that in hospital had to have a pic line, since that its been a nightmare

Anne Royles (not verified)

I'm like that in hospital had to have a pic line, since that its been a nightmare

Natalie (not verified)

Thank you for this. I cried last week when I had a blood test. Three nurses had a good go... after a warm towel and a drink we finally got there. I dread them.

Valerie King (not verified)

I to have veins that vanish at the sight of a needle. On New Year's Eve day I attended my local A&E where the doctor tried 5 times for a blood sample without any luck, but he asked for a Vaxnurse to try, she came armed with a ultrasound unit found the vein straight away, I didn't even feel the needle going in. These nurses are highly trained blood letting experts and should be available to help when necessary. I will be asking for one next time I have to have a blood test.

Diane Bell (not verified)

Would love to use the other arm but told can’t use the side where you’ve had surgery, always have a bad time .