A phlebotomist is someone who uses venipuncture to draw blood from an individual. While many fear blood or the act of getting their blood drawn, the role of the phlebotomist is extremely important in the health and treatment of individuals. Drawn blood can indicate the presence or absence of blood cells to indicate a serious illness or unhealthy levels of cholesterol or blood sugars. It can also indicate genetic markers that signal a predisposition for a disease, or the possibility of disease in future children. Here are 8 phlebotomy facts that demonstrate its importance in medical practice over the past two thousand years.
Bloodletting Was Common in Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome
Phlebotomy’s earliest ancestor was the process of bloodletting. While it was used for very different purposes than the modern procedures, the idea behind the process was similar. Instead of removing blood for diagnostic purposes, physicians believed that releasing blood from the body was a way to treat common and serious ailments, essentially letting the poisonous illness drain from the body. Additionally, there was a belief that physicians needed to balance the four humors of the body: yellow bile, black bile, phlegm, and blood. Bloodletting was believed to be a therapeutic way to accomplish this equilibrium.
George Washington Died From Lack of Blood
Our very first president could have lived a longer life if only he had a modern phlebotomist to help him out. Washington reportedly lost between 5 and 7 pints of blood in 2/3 of a day as a result of excessive bloodletting. He received the treatment in response to a very bad sore throat but ultimately lost his life due to a significant shortage of blood in his body. More modern facts about phlebotomy have informed technicians on the proper procedures for drawing blood in order to avoid situations where patients lose too much blood.
Blood Used to be Drawn From Larger Veins
Prior to the modern understanding of safe venipuncture, blood used to be let by severing arteries and veins in the neck or forearm. This practice was done using any sharp metal or wooden implement and was used to treat common ailments during medieval times, such as smallpox, gout and the plague. This led to an excess of blood being released from the body in some instances, and the lack of sterilization could lead to serious or lethal infection.
Barbers Were Also Phlebotomists
While the idea of drawing blood in the lab might feel nerve-wracking, consider the idea that barbershops used to practice phlebotomy in addition to cutting hair. As mentioned above, bloodletting was common in ancient and medieval times, and medical care used to be administered by monks and assisted by barbers at their shop. Patients could get a haircut and have a vein cut to drain blood all in the same visit. This is why a barber’s pole is red, white and blue. The pole resembles the shape of the stick patients held to make their vein prominent while the red color symbolized the blood and the white represented the bandages.
Leeches Were Commonly Used to Draw Blood in the 19th Century
As if cutting people open to release their blood doesn’t sound bad enough, physicians in France and England used to use leeches to suck the blood of patients in the 1830s and 1840s. Back in ancient times, and again in the middle ages, the leeches were used to heal headaches and other ailments. While leeches are currently still used to help with removing blood in swollen areas or following procedures with an increased risk for blood clots, there are much safer means to draw blood for diagnostic purposes.
Veterinarians Also Practice Phlebotomy
People are not the only ones who require blood to be drawn on occasion. Animals can also require blood to be drawn to check for disease or to perform routine checkups. Pets, such as dogs and cats, may require regular bloodwork in order to ensure that they do not have any life-threatening illnesses such as Lyme disease or heartworms. When animals are ill, it might also be necessary to collect blood to check for disease.
There are Four Blood Types
There are only four major blood types that run through everybody’s veins: A, B, AB and O. Additionally, these blood types are labeled positive or negative depending on whether the Rh antigen is found in the blood. Blood typing is important for blood transfusions, as patients need to receive blood of the same type as what runs through their veins. Those with type O blood are considered “universal donors” because their blood can be used for any blood type because it does not contain antigens.
Blood Can Also be Drawn for “Good” Reasons
The last but certainly not least of the facts about phlebotomy is the idea that getting your blood drawn doesn’t have to be a “bad” thing. Although we tend to associate phlebotomy with illness, the process of drawing blood can be useful for other things as well. Research assistants may draw blood as part of their studies to help understand and make sense of human health. Analyzing the blood of participants to determine genetic markers for illnesses, the body’s responses to treatment, or the way blood cells behave when the patient already has a known diagnosis can help further our knowledge of how to recognize and treat serious illnesses.
As these phlebotomy facts show, the work that phlebotomists do saves the lives of patients every day. Whether taking a sample to determine the presence of an illness or drawing donated blood to help those in need of transfusions, the work of someone skilled in venipuncture is incredibly important to the health and safety of the individuals they work with. If you think you would like to learn how to do this all-important job, contact us today!