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Blood tests

Introduction

[Original article on NHS Choices website]

A blood test is taking a sample of blood for testing in a laboratory. Blood tests have a wide range of uses and are one of the most common types of medical test.

For example, a blood test can be used to:

  • assess your general state of health
  • confirm the presence of a bacterial or viral infection
  • see how well certain organs, such as the liver and kidneys, are functioning
  • screen for certain genetic conditions such as cystic fibrosis or spinal muscular atrophy

Read about some common types of blood test.

Most blood tests only take a few minutes to complete and are carried out at your GP surgery or local hospital.

Preparing for a blood test

The healthcare professional who arranges your blood test will tell you whether there are any specific instructions you need to follow before your test.

For example, depending on the type of blood test, you may be asked to:

What happens during a blood test?

A blood test usually involves taking a blood sample from a blood vessel in your arm.

The arm is a convenient part of the body to use because it can be easily uncovered. The usual place for a sample to be taken from is the inside of the elbow or wrist, where the veins are relatively close to the surface.

Blood samples from children are usually taken from the back of the hand. The child's hand will be anaesthetised (numbed) with a special cream before the sample is taken.

A tight band (tourniquet) is usually put around your upper arm. This squeezes the arm, temporarily slowing down the flow of blood out of the arm, and causing the vein to swell with blood. This makes it easier for a blood sample to be taken.

Before taking the sample, the doctor or nurse may need to clean the area with an antiseptic wipe.

A needle attached to a syringe or to a special blood-collecting container is pushed into the vein. The syringe is used to draw out a sample of your blood. You may feel a slight pricking sensation as the needle goes in, but it should not be painful. If you do not like needles and injections, tell the person who is taking the sample so they can make you more comfortable. If you feel faint, lie down.

When the sample has been taken, the needle will be removed. Pressure is applied to the tiny break in the skin for a few minutes using a cotton-wool pad to stop the bleeding and to prevent bruising. A plaster may then be put on the small wound to keep it clean and prevent infection.

After the test

Only a small amount of blood is taken during the test so you shouldn't feel any significant after-effects.

However, some people do feel dizzy and faint during and after the test. If this happens to you, tell the person carrying out the test so they can help you feel more comfortable.

After a blood test, you may have a small bruised area on your skin where the needle went in. Occasionally, a larger area of bruising may appear. This can be because there was a lack of pressure at the site of the jab or the blood vessel was damaged by the needle.

Bruises can be painful but are usually harmless. However, tell your GP if you frequently get bruises after having a blood test.

Results

After the blood sample has been taken, it will be put into a bottle and labelled with your name. It will then be sent to a laboratory where it will be examined under a microscope or tested with chemicals, depending on what's being checked. The results are sent back to the hospital or to your GP, and you will be told when and how you will be given them.

Sometimes, receiving results can be stressful and upsetting. If you are worried about the outcome of a test, you may choose to take a trusted friend or relative with you. For some tests, such as HIV, you will be offered specialist counselling to help you deal with your results.


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