Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Preparing for IVs, Sticks, and Pricks

Getting my blood taken, being hooked up to IVs, and having infusions have become a fact of life for me.  It's a regular routine I know I share with many other sjogren's patients and those suffering from other autoimmune conditions.

I've learned a few things over the years that helped me and I thought I'd share. Hopefully others have tricks or tips they can add to these suggestions.

My veins are hard to access. It's not something I thought much about before being sick, but it sure makes life difficult now. The nurses trying to stick, prick or prod me in various ways always had a hard time getting a vein to work, resulting in a number of sometimes painful attempts and an array of multicolored bruises.  I knew the needles weren't going away, so I embarked on a new routine to see if I could improve the condition of my veins. In combination, the practices below have helped quite a bit over the past few months.

Weight Lifting. No, I'm not turning into a body builder. (As my husband reminds me the steroids I take don't lead to Barry Bonds type home runs.) However, I realized that I was weak from being basically unable to exercise for three years because of illness. I needed to build up my arm muscles to make the veins come to the surface. I started to to lift weights at home to build up my arms. Initially, I tried curling 3 pound dumbbells…but they were too heavy for me after I tried just a couple of bicep curls.  I then moved down to 2 pounders and these were much more my speed. I started very slowly and have since been able to work my way up to doing a variety of exercises with the 3 pound weights. Maybe I will eventually make it to 5 pounds if this vein building routine continues, but that is probably a little ambitious. I can visibly see the difference in the veins in my arms and hands.

Drinking Water. This may be obvious to many, but I started making a point of super-hydrating 24 hours before my infusions. It's made a difference in making my blood easier to access. 

Hand Warmers and Gloves.  My hands are usually cold from Raynauds and I find the temperature in hospitals is never quite comfortable.  I knew having cold, blue hands always made for a hard time putting in an IV, but I wasn't sure what to do about it.  When I was at a sporting good store one day, I saw a box of hand warmers and a thought popped in my head. What do you know, they helped a ton.  Whether it is winter or summer, I now show up to the hospital wearing a pair of over-sized gloves each filled with two hand warmers.  I don't take them off until the nurse is about to stick me. It really helps my veins pop out. 

You know that you have spent too much time getting medical care when the improved condition of your veins becomes a source of pride. I realize this is probably not the most interesting post for the average reader, but these tips and discoveries have made a huge difference for me and I thought they might be useful to others who frequently get blood taken or infusions.  Please share away if you have others.


  1. I am catching up on posts and this one is great. I just realized that when I was in the hospital last week that one of the issues of getting my veins wasn't just not being hydrated enough but the temperaturs in the room and it would have helped for them to warm up my hands/arms. Good tips!

  2. Great tips, I have so many problems with needles and like you said, they aren't going away. I'll have to try these.