Are you one of those chronically ill patients that dreads blood draws? Have you ever asked yourself this question?
‘Why do blood draws make me sick?
Why do I experience more chronic pain and flare-ups of symptoms after a blood draw?
In general, most people who have their blood drawn don’t experience serious side effects, but it’s fairly common for some patients to experience a brief sting at the injection site. Perhaps they also feel a bit lightheaded or tired after a blood draw as well. These are normal reactions and most people improve quickly with rest and a good snack afterwards.
But for patients like me, blood draws can be a horrible part of frequent visits to the hospital to manage chronic illness.
It’s not because I’m afraid of needles or get queasy at the sight of blood. (I’m not and I don’t.)
For years, I’ve suffered through blood draws and experienced fibro and MECFS crashes within minutes of my blood being drawn. The more blood they take, the worse I get. The aftermath is always severe.
Side effects from my blood draws include:
- PEM crash (post exhertional malaise)
- Extreme exhaustion and muscle weakness
- Dizziness and lightheadedness
- Widespread pain
- A cold, clammy sweat right after the procedure
- Hot and sweaty later
- Brain fog
- Pale skin
- Fainting depending on how much blood they take (My favorite blood technician Elaine knows me for this. That’s how we met!)
- Worse than usual insomnia the night after my blood test
These crashes typically last 48 to 72 hours, but they have gone longer depending on how much blood is taken, and especially if I’m menstruating.
No matter how much I prep ahead or rely on my husband to do other activities at the hospital like paying and collecting my prescriptions so I can rest, I still get sick. Yesterday I walked to my blood test and walked out. Today I was flat on my back until 2pm and couldn’t sit up without experiencing more pain, nausea, and migraine pressure. I’ve taken an hour to write this post and then it’s back to bed for me.
Does anyone else experience this with fibromylagia and ME? I asked on Twitter and FM/MECFS patients replied.
Off balance, lightheaded, foggy, eyesight issues, weak, even passed out once, but if I’ve eaten a good meal first and drink fluids immediately after, I’m ok— Kelli (@ugottafriend) March 8, 2021
Definitely have symptoms after any kind of injection, though, guaranteed.
When I was working, I needed a four to six days to recover to 80% from lab work. When hospitalized with daily lab work 🤷🏾♀️ no bueno it’s been three months later and still not 60%— Sharon Wargaming My Life (@Severity_) March 6, 2021
I have a crash every time. Fatigue, feeling faint, the whole works.— Renuka Dhinakaran (@renudhinakaran) March 5, 2021
The intensity of the flare is directly proportional to the amount of times I need to be stuck before they listen to me.— Daniel P. Malito (THE Chronic Briefs Home!) (@danielpmalito) March 5, 2021
What’s that about stress causing flares….
I clued into blood draws and the toll they take on me in 2015 and brought it up with my rheumy back then. He didn’t believe me.
Less than six months later, I’d moved to Tzu Chi Buddhist Hospital and had a new neurologist who also didn’t believe me. I left him, and found my current rheumatologist and he seemed pretty keen to test my blood at every appointment.
Once again, I wondered if my doctor would believe me. I brought it up and he looked skeptical as he ordered yet another blood test.
At that point, there was no option but to do my test the day of my appointment and let him see what was happening. That day, the tech took a whopping amount of blood – and I promptly slid off my seat in the lab.
My tech wanted me to go to ER. I had my husband wheel me into my appointment approximately one hour afterwards and all I can say is that Dr. Chen was shocked by my appearance and lack of energy.
He wanted me to go to ER. I wanted to go home. (I did go home because I’ve experienced this before and I knew I needed rest, not more tests.)
After that appointment, we decided to reduce the number of blood draws I do to try and take the stress off my health.
Personally I feel that this has more to do with my MECFS diagnosis but after further reading, I’ve learned it could be fibromyalgia too.
Why do blood draws make me sick?
I decided to do a bit of research into this to try and understand why this keeps happening.
First off, it’s good to know that Fibromyalgia and MECFS patients experience glitches in how our bodies perceive pain.
Myalgic encephalomyelitis was classified as a neurological disease by the World Health Organization in 1969. Fibromyalgia is also classified as a lifelong disorder/disease of the central nervous system. Researchers have noted blood flow irregularities in both of these conditions, but I couldn’t find any information about blood flow being related to blood draws and FM/MECFS flare-ups.
Since Fibromyalgia and MECFS are neurological diseases that are driven by the central nervous system, it’s easy to see that a rogue CNS is responsible for amplified pain that shoots through the body and can hit anywhere.
“Because pain pathways throughout the body are amplified in fibromyalgia patients, pain can occur anywhere, so chronic headaches, visceral pain and sensory hyper-responsiveness are common in people with this painful condition.”Daniel Clauw, MD, Professor of Anesthesiology. Medicine (Rheumatology) and Psychiatry at the University of Michigan. He serves as Director of the Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center.
It’s not unreasonable to conclude that something as small as needle can cause a hyper-responsive reaction with pain and exhaustion, which are hallmark symptoms of both diseases.
My central nervous system boots things into high gear and amplifies that pain everywhere. And since most patients experience some fatigue and are told to rest after a blood draw, it’s easy to see why my energy levels would be affected since my body operates with an energy deficit.
Are doctors aware of this?
None of my doctors warned me or seemed to be aware of this type of reaction until I brought it up.
On blood draw days, you can always see that I am sick. And now my doc has seen it too.
So, how do YOU react to blood draws?
To close, I’ve included A Chronic Voice’s March writing prompts:
I’m no stranger to blood draws or being poked and prodded. I’m not afraid of needles, since I have to inject twice a week for my arthritis. But I do recognize that I need to incorporate some new routines to lessen the impact of blood draws.
I’ve begun incorporating more prep for my hospital routine on blood draw days. Rest before my test and after is essential.
My husband asked me to go out to dinner with him tonight and I said let’s wait and see. Today he said he could see that I was right to say we needed to bump our dinner date.
If you’re experiencing the same type of reaction as me when you get your blood drawn, try a deep breathing technique to help you stay calm. I use deep breathing for almost everything, and it’s so helpful. (A massive perk to being professionally trained as a vocalist is that my deep breathing skills are impressive.) Since my central nervous system is constantly out of whack, this is an easy technique that I can use anywhere and at any time to try and calm it.
Deep breathing is almost instinct for blood draws now and I’m honestly not bothered at all by the procedure. It’s the aftermath that gets me every time.
If having your blood drawn makes you anxious, try closing your eyes and pretending you’re somewhere else. I freely admit I have never watched my techs draw blood and that’s totally fine. Some patients feel better without having to see that needle enter your arm and watching blood flow into those vials.
A no-brainer. Smiling at your blood technician and chatting with them makes blood draws easier. Plus I like to joke to ‘take it easy on me’. They always laugh at that. Having a good relationship with nurses and blood technicians is as simple as offering a smile and having a good chat with them while you’re waiting.
It also reminds them that you’re human. Can you imagine doing hundreds of jabs a day? I bet it gets pretty boring. My techs always give me a big hello when they see me rolling in.
Now that I’ve discussed this with my doctor and he has confirmed with his own eyes what happens to me any time he orders blood tests, he’s stopped ordering so many. It took three doctors before someone finally realized I was serious about how blood draws were affecting me.
Never STOP advocating for what is best for you.
While I realize that blood draws are essential since I’m chronically ill, I can still minimize the impact by learning when to do them and when to say no. Sometimes my doctor wants me to push through because we need an accurate reading on inflammation, but he’s also ok with me saying no when I need to.
I’ve learned to stop going through with unnecessary tests unless they are 100% necessary. I didn’t realize I could do that when I was a new patient. As a veteran patient, I know what is expected each month and what I can say no to unless it’s absolutely required.
I relish the moment when I’m feeling better after a blood draw. And if hubs brings me cookies, believe me, I’m going to indulge since good cookies are so hard to find in Taiwan.
I’m also going to relish my time between now and my next blood draw!