Person Receiving an IV

6 Tips for Easier Blood Draws and IVs When You’re a Hard Stick Patient

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Hello chronic illness warriors! I’m here today to share my personal journey with needles and pokes, along with 6 tips for easier blood draws and IVs when you’re a hard stick patient. My whole life, I have been an incredibly hard stick patient. When I needed an IV for my wisdom tooth extraction, it took 8 sticks to get the vein! It’s always a long, complicated process to find a vein that can be used for blood draw or IVs. I typically warn my nurse at the first chance I can, and he or she confidently explains that they’ve got this, only to come across challenge after challenge about 5 minutes later when they start trying. I even had 4 separate nurses attempt to start an IV for fluids during an ER visit, only for them all to be unsuccessful. I was told to go home and hydrate as much as I could since they weren’t able to start the IV!

This is why I just about choked when my Rheumatologist suggested starting infusion therapy 6 months ago. I explained that I’m such a hard stick and I didn’t see how I would possibly get through this successfully. I retold my lengthy list of horror stories with needles, and he confidently shared that this is why he was sending me to a Cancer Treatment Center specifically for my infusion therapy, as the cancer nurses are the very best in the industry when it comes to finding difficult veins. I trusted him and started my first round of infusion therapy in August 2022. Unfortunately, it was still a process to find the vein; I had to have 2 different nurses try, and it took them about 30-40 minutes each time to prep the vein for the IV, but it was super encouraging to me that they were able to start the IV successfully each time! We worked together as a team to problem-solve and find solutions that worked, and I’m excited to share the solutions we found with you today. Read on for 6 Tips for Easier Blood Draws and IVs When You’re a Hard Stick Patient.

Skip the Coffee

This is one of the first problems my nurse found when having difficulty starting my IV! I’m coffee obsessed and I of course had already completed my morning cup of joe before coming into my appointment. The problem here is that coffee dehydrates you, so it’s much easier for your nurse to access the vein if you have not had coffee yet that day! Once the IV is placed or the bloodwork has been drawn, you can then treat yourself to a coffee. This was a super easy fix I made as a hard stick patient for easier blood draws and IVs, and I soon came to love having coffee after the IV was placed as a way to relax and reward myself!

Drink Tons of Water the Day Before and Day Of

I think it’s pretty well known that drinking water the day of your blood draw or IV can help prepare for needles. However, did you know that drinking water the day before actually makes a much bigger impact? The point here is to get super hydrated so your veins will be plump and easier to access, and oftentimes you’re too late if you’re waiting until moments before the appointment to start sipping on water. If you want to make the best impact, start drinking tons of water the day before to make blood draws and IVs easier. I often struggle to get enough hydration before my appointment; if this is your experience too, I recommend adding in electrolytes to pack a bigger punch! This is my favorite electrolyte powder; I hope it helps!

Woman drinking a glass of water with lime wedges

Pump Your Fists While the Nurse Preps

We all know the dreaded 5-minute prep time it takes for the nurse to collect all the supplies that he or she needs. Instead of sitting there worrying if you’ll be successful this time, put your body to work by pumping your fists. This will “workout” the veins so they will show up easier once the nurse puts on the tourniquet. If you know the specific hand they’ll be using, you can simply pump the one fist, but if you’re unsure, pump both just to be sure you’re making the best impact as you prepare for needles! It’s also important to take this time to focus on your breathing!

Stay Warm

If you are chilly, likely your veins are also shriveled up, and we all know how freezing those doctors’ offices and labs are! If you want easier blood draws and IVs, make sure you have a sweater or jacket to stay warm. Keep in mind that any sleeves will need to be easily raised for the needle, however, so ensure the sleeves aren’t too tight, or bring a blanket instead! If the nurse still has trouble finding a vein, consider asking for a heating pad. According to my infusion nurses, warming up the veins specifically can help them swell so they’re more visible!

Person under blankets receiving an IV

Eat a Big Meal Before if You Can

I’m not sure the science behind this one, but I can very obviously see a difference in how my veins respond when I’ve had a big meal right before my appointment versus when I haven’t. It’s twice as hard to find the needle when I have to complete fasting blood work or IVs, so if you can help it, make sure you have had a big, nutritious meal prior to your appointment. I also started packing PBJ sandwiches to eat in the waiting room. The protein in the peanut butter, mixed with the sugar in the jelly have been super helpful in keeping my blood sugar from dropping so I’m in the best state I can be to make blood draws and IVs easier.

If you do have to fast for the procedure, consider waking up at midnight and having a protein shake or some scrambled eggs. This will also help keep your blood sugar up so your veins can be as plump as possible. I especially make a point to do this if it’s before a big procedure.

Work with Your Nurse and Chat About Your Veins

If you’re a hard stick patient, prepare for needles by getting to know your good vein! I have two, one is in the center of my right arm inside my elbow, and the other is located on the back of my hand towards the right side. I’ve had countless nurses try on my left arm since it’s non-dominant, but unfortunately, they rarely have success! My infusion nurses even named the vein on my hand Reliable Rachel as it was the only vein they could successfully access for each of my infusions. Try to start paying attention to which veins they can get easily, and chat with your nurse about his or her process of finding it! This way you can share this information to future nurses.

Nurse chatting with patient receiving an IV

Bonus: Advocate for Yourself

I couldn’t let you go without sharing this important bonus tip with you! I can’t tell you how many times I told the nurse where my best vein is, only for him or her to say, “I’m going to try this other one instead.” About 8 out of 10 times, they aren’t able to get the vein, and have to re-stick in the vein I told them to try in the first place. You know your body the best, and you’ve been through every single stick with your body; your nurse has not. If there’s a particular nurse at your infusion center or local blood draw location that has better luck than others, write down their name and request they be your nurse at future appointments! You can also request butterfly needles or to be laid down before a blood draw if that has been helpful for you in the past. Advocate and speak up for yourself when necessary to avoid any unnecessary pain and stress!

Conclusion

There you have it, 6 Tips for Easier Blood Draws and IVs When You’re a Hard Stick Patient! The unfortunate reality is, if you have a chronic illness, it’s impossible to avoid needles throughout your treatment, but I hope these tips are helpful as you prepare for needles and make blood draws and IVs easier for you in the future! If you’ve tried any of these tips out, let me know which one is best for you in the comments below!

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21 thoughts on “6 Tips for Easier Blood Draws and IVs When You’re a Hard Stick Patient”

  1. This was so helpful! Sometimes I find they have a hard time finding a vein but I’m now wondering if it was because I’d had coffee! I had no idea it could cause issues with drawing blood! Thank you for sharing and hope you’re well!

  2. Wow – this was very enlightening. I had no idea all the factors that could go into being a hard stick patient. Thank you for sharing.

  3. This is great! As a nurse, I always try to talk to the patient about their past experience with blood draws and IVs because I find it so helpful for both of us! But I know that’s not the case with all nurses! I love all the tips here!

    1. This makes SUCH a huge difference for me when the nurse asks about my experience and we collaborate as a team! Thank you for taking such great care of your patients in this way!

  4. Feels like you’re speaking to me! I try to drink plenty of water a few hours before a blood draw and definitely discussing it with the phleb before the actual blood draw sometimes helps. Thanks for these tips!

  5. this was very enlightening, always been a struggle for me when drawing blood or IV has found a warm blanket, and pumping my fist has helped the most!

  6. Pingback: 8 Tips to Advocate for Yourself with Doctors - Val's Magical Life

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