November 2, 2022

Phlebotomy Tips: How to Help a Fainting Patient During a Blood Draw

Key Takeaways

  • Statistically, 2.5% of patients will pass out during or immediately after a blood draw. 
  • One of the most common reasons for patients passing is a sudden drop in blood pressure and not enough oxygen can reach the brain. 
  • Signs to look for include the skin becoming pale, tunnel vision, cold sweats, and dilated pupils. 
  • Fainting can be unexpected, but knowing what to do beforehand is important to help prevent injury and ensure the patient is safe.

Did your patient faint during a blood draw? Don’t worry, as a phlebotomist, you are almost guaranteed to encounter a patient that faints at some point in your career. In fact, statistically speaking, nearly 2.5% of patients will pass out during or immediately after a blood draw.

The good news is that you can prepare for this scenario and ensure the patient is safe by limiting the potential for injury by taking the appropriate steps. In this article, we’ll review why patients faint, warning signs to look for, and what to do when the moment comes.

Why do patients faint during a blood draw?

It’s hard to identify which patients will faint during a blood draw and which will not. It happens to healthy patients, young, old, and even those accustomed to blood draws. The most common reason for fainting, especially with children and young adults, is neurally mediated syncope.

Commonly referred to as vasovagal syncope or a vasovagal response, essentially what happens is the patient’s blood pressure suddenly drops and not enough oxygen can reach the brain. There’s not a single cause for this reaction; it could be anxiety, distress, or sometimes even the sight of blood is enough to trigger it.

The important thing to remember is to look for signs when a patient is about to faint. Noticing them can keep them safe from injury or harm while they recover consciousness.

Signs to look for when a patient is about to faint

Although it can be hard to tell what patient will faint when they walk through the door, there are warning signs that you can identify and use to prepare a safe environment for your patient to recover.

Signs a patient is about to faint include:

  • Skin becomes pale
  • Lightheadedness
  • Hyperventilation or anxiety
  • Vision loss, tunnel vision, or blurred vision
  • Cold sweats
  • Feelings of nausea
  • Pupils become dilated
  • Slow or weak pulse

What to do when a patient faints during a blood draw

If you notice any of the above warning signs that your patient is about to faint, it’s important to immediately take precautions and prepare a safe environment to prevent injury or harm. After all, falling during a blood draw can cause serious injury, including concussions, broken bones, or worse, paralysis.

Include these steps in your blood draw process to ensure your patients are safe if they faint:

  • Ensure patients are seated in chairs with arm rests, which can help prevent the patient from falling to the floor in the event they faint.
  • Never draw a patient who is sitting upright or on an exam table without side armrests.
  • For inpatients, make sure they are either lying down (recumbent position) or sitting in arms chairs with arm rests; not upright on the bed.
  • If a patient has a history of fainting, make sure they’re lying down during the blood draw.
  • Never turn your back on the patient, especially once the blood draw is completed. Oftentimes, there are no warning signs before passing out and you’ll need to support them in the event they pass out.
  • Stay within a step away from the patient - this ensures you’re close by to help in the event of a fall.
  • If the patient does become dizzy or passes out during the blood draw, release the tourniquet, remove the needle, and activate the safety feature immediately. Presence of mind will prevent you from getting an accidental needlestick.
  • If the patient does lose consciousness, support him/her from falling and call for assistance, if possible. Once they are supported, lower the patient’s head below the level of the heart to encourage blood flow to the brain. You can also carefully, with assistance, lower the patient’s head between the knees or lower the patient to the floor.
  • Lastly, avoid the use of ammonia inhalants. If a patient is asthmatic it may cause them to develop respiratory distress.

In addition to these tips, you can also help the patient by not mentioning the words “faint” or “pass out” prior to the blood draw. The power of suggestion is powerful - and you don’t want to make your words a reality. Instead, ask them if they’ve ever “had problems” with prior blood draws. Ask follow up questions depending on their answer and prepare accordingly.

Some authorities on needle phobia recommend asking patients, “How do you feel about needles?” If the answer suggests anything other than an acceptance or ambivalence, be on high alert for an impending loss of consciousness and take preventative measures.

Fainting can be unexpected, but knowing what to do beforehand is important to help prevent injury and ensure the patient is safe. Remember, success is merely preparation meeting opportunity, and, as a world-class phlebotomist, you should always be prepared for anything!

As always, thanks for stopping by! We look forward to sharing more phlebotomy tips and best practices with you in the future.

Getlabs is growing!

If you’re considering a career as a phlebotomist or curious to learn more, consider working for a mobile phlebotomy service like Getlabs. We hire talented, passionate people from diverse backgrounds, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it makes our company stronger as a whole.

If you share our values and our enthusiasm for helping our patients have the best experience, we have a home for you at Getlabs.

Check out our careers page and find out if we’re hiring in your area!

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