How I avoid passing out during blood draws

Preparations make a difference when I'm anticipating the needle

Erin Fortin avatar

by Erin Fortin |

Share this article:

Share article via email
A graphic illustrating a woman rolling a stone up a mountain on the left side, then celebrating it reaching the top on the right side.

The first time I experienced vasovagal syncope, a sudden drop in blood pressure, and passed out from a blood draw was before my diagnosis of paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH). I remember being so nervous beforehand that my heart was racing. The second the needle went through my skin, I felt an overwhelming rush from my nerves that almost took my breath away. I got lightheaded, and my vision suddenly went from being fine to seeing a black ring closing in.

The nurses laid me back, lifted my feet, and gave me apple juice to sip. I started to feel better quickly, but I was upset about what had happened. The nurses comforted me by letting me know my reaction was normal, yet something to be aware of for future blood draws. After I learned I had PNH, I thought, “Great. What a coincidence that blood draws will become a big part of my life.”

I unfortunately had an experience seeing someone else react like I did. I used to pierce ears at a store in the mall, and a customer once passed out. Granted, I was trained to handle the situation, but I was also not a nurse and was terrified about what to do.

Recommended Reading
A person wearing a baseball cap speaks using a megaphone.

Using Soliris for PNH lowers blood clot, mortality risk: Study

After experiencing the helpless feeling of watching someone pass out under your care, I learned to always let my phlebotomists know that I’ve passed out before. This information helps them prepare with the necessary tools, like juice or an ammonia inhalant. It also takes the fear and surprise out of the equation if I happen to pass out. They always thank me for letting them know, so I think they appreciate it.

Once the blood draw begins, I also communicate to them about how I’m feeling, whether they ask or not. I can usually sense if I’m going to pass out within the first 20 seconds or so, so I’ll tell the nurse that I’m either feeling good or going down.

Here are three things I do to avoid passing out from needles.

Eat beforehand

I always eat something before I go the appointment. It doesn’t have to be an entire meal, but enough to not have an empty stomach.

One of the times I passed out, I realized I hadn’t eaten for a few hours, which could’ve been why I had a problem. I’ve found that anything with carbs or sugar helps me avoid passing out.

Have a juice box with me

Most medical offices have juice boxes available in situations like these, but I’d rather bring my own and have it ready. Sometimes I start drinking my juice in the waiting room, so I know my stomach is settled before sitting in the chair. I also like bringing my own juice because it lets me choose the flavor!

But the important benefit is the sugar, so don’t get sugar-free.

Bring my own stress balls

I bring not just one, but two stress balls. I use one in the arm that’s being poked, so it pumps up the veins as requested by the nurses. I use the other stress ball in the opposite hand. Since passing out has to do with blood flow, I’ve found that squeezing and activating movement in my other arm helps me. It’s also a good distraction, like a fidget toy, to keep my focus occupied.

Last week, I went to the doctor for a routine checkup and blood draw. I knew the needle was coming, so my anxiety started once I parked the car.

Even after all these years of being poked time and time again, my nerves still get the best of me. But knowing I’ve prepared to avoid passing out does give me some comfort, and (knock on wood) it hasn’t failed me since.

Have you passed out from blood draws before? What have you done to avoid it happening again? Please share in the comments below.

Note: PNH News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of PNH News or its parent company, Bionews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria.