In some parts of the world, bloodletting is still used as a form of alternative medicine:
- WIth wet cupping, bloodletting is done along with the application of special suction cups. This therapy is believed to promote healing, provide pain relief, and restore healthy energy flow (called chi) in the body.
- Bloodletting is done in some Ayurvedic therapies because it is believed to “detoxify” the body and cure certain diseases.
Bloodletting in modern medicine is more controlled and performed under infection-control measures. For example, bloodletting may be done after certain plastic surgery procedures to facilitate healing:
- The FDA has approved medicinal leech (Hirudo medicinalis) belonging to the Annelida worm classification for such purposes. The FDA states that the leech should be used as "an adjunct to the graft tissue healing when problems of venous congestion may delay healing, or to overcome the problem of venous congestion by creating prolonged localized bleeding."
- This means that if healing is delayed due to a collection of blood at the surgical site, medicinal leech may help relieve that by causing the flow of blood from the site.
What is phlebotomy?
In modern medicine, bloodletting is known by several names, such as phlebotomy, venipuncture, and blood draw. It is done for:
- Diagnostic purposes to analyze the blood for infections, electrolyte imbalances, hormones, blood cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels, etc.
- Therapeutic purposes (also called therapeutic phlebotomy) for the treatment of medical conditions such as:
- Polycythemia vera (a type of blood cancer in which the bone marrow makes an excess of red blood cells or RBCs)
- Hemochromatosis (a genetic condition in which iron salts are deposited at various sites in the body)
- Sickle cell disease (a blood disorder in which the RBCs become brittle and abnormally shaped)
- Certain liver diseases, etc.
Although this procedure may be performed by a doctor or nurse, phlebotomists are professionals specifically qualified to perform phlebotomy.
What are the risks of phlebotomy?
Phlebotomy is a safe procedure in modern medicine done under aseptic precautions. Side effects are rarely reported following phlebotomy, although if they do occur they are minor and may include pain or irritation at the site.
- Since therapeutic phlebotomy generally involves the removal of a larger volume of blood than diagnostic phlebotomy, it may result in anemia or reduced red blood cells or hemoglobin in the blood. It may present as pallor, fatigue, lightheadedness, fast heartbeat, or shortness of breath.
- Some people may report allergic reactions at the site where the tourniquet or band was tied to draw blood. Generally, however, healthcare professionals ask about allergies before the procedure.
- There is also a small risk of infections at the site where the needle is inserted.
These side effects are generally mild when the procedure is done by qualified professionals. When bloodletting is done by unqualified people, there may be a higher risk of serious side effects, including severe infections and excessive blood loss.
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Nagalla S. What is the role of phlebotomy in the treatment of polycythemia vera (PV)? Medscape. https://www.medscape.com/answers/205114-102546/what-is-the-role-of-phlebotomy-in-the-treatment-of-polycythemia-vera-pv
Shlamovitz GZ. Phlebotomy Technique. Medscape. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1998221-technique#c2
Drugs.com. Therapeutic Phlebotomy. https://www.drugs.com/cg/therapeutic-phlebotomy.html
Colovic N, Lekovic D, Gotic M. [Treatment by bloodletting in the past and present]. Srp Arh Celok Lek. 2016 Mar-Apr;144(3-4):240-8. Serbian. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27483574/
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