Phlebotomy

Treatment Overview

Phlebotomy is a procedure that removes blood from the body. Regular phlebotomy treats people who have too much iron in their blood, such as with hemochromatosis, or who are producing too many red blood cells, such as with polycythemia. Removing blood regularly decreases iron levels in the body by reducing the number of iron-rich red blood cells.

Health professionals perform phlebotomy in a medical clinic. The process is similar to donating blood. A health professional inserts a needle into a vein in your arm and removes about 500 mL (17 fl oz) of blood. The procedure takes about 30 minutes. You do not need to fast or make special preparations before phlebotomy. But try to eat a good meal and drink plenty of fluids before phlebotomy. This will prevent dizziness or fainting.

Health professionals will have you sit or lie down. During the procedure, they monitor your blood pressure and pulse.

What To Expect After Treatment

Some people feel tired or dizzy after phlebotomy. You might get relief from these symptoms by resting for the next 24 hours and drinking plenty of fluids.

You may want to have a family member or friend take you home after the procedure.

Why It Is Done

Excess iron is often stored in the organs, especially the liver. Eventually, the excess iron can cause serious organ and tissue damage. Phlebotomy lowers iron levels by removing iron-rich blood cells from the body.

How Well It Works

Removal of excess iron can significantly reduce the possibility of severe and even life-threatening damage to the liver and other organs.1

Risks

Phlebotomy is safe when done by a health professional. You may get a small bruise at the puncture site. You can reduce the risk of bruising by keeping pressure on the puncture site for several minutes after the needle is withdrawn. In rare cases, the vein may become inflamed after the blood sample is taken. This condition is called phlebitis and is usually treated with a warm compress applied several times a day. There is also a small risk of infection at the puncture site.

What To Think About

Depending on the cause of iron excess, you may not need phlebotomy as often after iron levels are at a safe level.

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References

Citations

  1. Bacon, BR et al. (2011). Diagnosis and management of hemochromatosis: 2011 practice guideline by the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases. Hepatology, 54(1): 328–343.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Brian Leber, MDCM, FRCPC - Hematology
Last Revised October 15, 2012

Last Revised: October 15, 2012

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