The History of Phlebotomy


One of the world’s first medical practices was also one of the cruelest. It’s called phlebotomy, and you might be surprised to find out that it’s still happening today. Phlebotomy is also called bloodletting, and it’s the practice of draining blood from individuals that’s deemed to be harmful.

Where It All Began

Phlebotomy has its origins in a few different ancient cultures, including the Greeks, Mayans, and Mesopotamians. As one can imagine, the tools used at that time to operate on patients were particularly crude. How would you like to have the “Lancet” or the “Fleam” cutting into you? As you can see from the graphic, these were not exactly modern day operating tools.

Other early tools of the trade included “scarification and cupping”, where a bunch of tiny razor blazes would be used to cut away the surface of the skin, and “leeching”, where the patient would be covered with blood-sucking leeches. Pleasant? No, not exactly.

When Will You Have Your Next Phlebotomy?

That’s right – modern day phlebotomies are actually happening. But, before you notify the your local congressman and stage a protest, let’s get our facts straight. Every time you give blood, you’re undergoing a form of phlebotomy. There are a couple of differences between phlebotomies today and those that took place yesteryear.

For one, it hurts way less and probably won’t kill you. The other major difference is that when giving blood today, you’re either helping yourself or someone else. Blood tests are used to screen for illnesses and not because the blood itself is “harmful”. In fact, blood transfusions save thousands of lives every year. That blood comes from somewhere, and that “somewhere” is hundreds of blood donors who get poked for a good cause.

Thinking of Getting in a Car Accident?

As you can see from the graphic, the amount of blood you’ll need will vary wildly depending on which form of misfortune befalls you. The average blood transfusion is only three pints, but car accident victims can require up to 100 pints of blood.

Fortunately for everyone, bloodletting has evolved to be a helpful process that contributes to countless saved lives every year. Next time you’re giving blood and anxiously anticipating the needle prick, think about the weapons tools you would be facing just a few hundred years ago.

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