Therapeutic Phlebotomy

Therapeutic phlebotomy is the controlled removal of blood from your body for the purpose of treating a medical condition. It is similar to donating blood. Usually, about a pint (470 mL) of blood is removed. The average adult has 9 to 12 pints (4.3 to 5.7 L) of blood.

Therapeutic phlebotomy may be used to treat the following medical conditions:

  • Hemochromatosis. This is a condition in which there is too much iron in the blood.

  • Polycythemia vera. This is a condition in which there are too many red cells in the blood.

  • Porphyria cutanea tarda. This is a disease usually passed from one generation to the next (inherited). It is a condition in which an important part of hemoglobin is not made properly. This results in the build up of abnormal amounts of porphyrins in the body.

  • Sickle cell disease. This is an inherited disease. It is a condition in which the red blood cells form an abnormal crescent shape rather than a round shape.


  • Allergies.

  • Medicines taken including herbs, eyedrops, over-the-counter medicines, and creams.

  • Use of steroids (by mouth or creams).

  • Previous problems with anesthetics or numbing medicine.

  • History of blood clots.

  • History of bleeding or blood problems.

  • Previous surgery.

  • Possibility of pregnancy, if this applies.


This is a simple and safe procedure. Problems are unlikely.  However, problems can occur and may include:

  • Nausea or lightheadedness.

  • Low blood pressure.

  • Soreness, bleeding, swelling, or bruising at the needle insertion site.

  • Infection.


This is a procedure that can be done as an outpatient. Confirm the time that you need to arrive for your procedure. Confirm whether there is a need to fast or withhold any medications. It is helpful to wear clothing with sleeves that can be raised above the elbow. A blood sample may be done to determine the amount of red blood cells or iron in your blood. Plan ahead of time to have someone drive you home after the procedure.


The entire procedure from preparation through recovery takes about 1 hour. The actual collection takes about 10 to 15 minutes.

  • A needle will be inserted into your vein.

  • Tubing and a collection bag will be attached to that needle.

  • Blood will flow through the needle and tubing into the collection bag.

  • You may be asked to open and close your hand slowly and continuously during the entire collection.

  • Once the specified amount of blood has been removed from your body, the collection bag and tubing will be clamped.

  • The needle will be removed.

  • Pressure will be held on the site of the needle insertion to stop the bleeding. Then a bandage will be placed over the needle insertion site.


Your recovery will be assessed and monitored. If there are no problems, as an outpatient, you should be able to go home shortly after the procedure.