What is Phlebotomy? - Definition & Equipment

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  • 0:03 Definition of Phlebotomy
  • 0:40 Types of Equipment
  • 5:04 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Emily Ketchel

Emily has taught nursing assistant students and has a bachelor's degree in Botany and Nursing.

In this lesson you will learn the definition of phlebotomy and what equipment is necessary when it is performed. Each tool's function will be described in detail.

Definition of Phlebotomy

Do you remember the last time you had your blood taken? Did you know that there is a specific word for the procedure? Although most people will say they are 'giving blood' or 'getting their blood drawn,' the correct term is phlebotomy.

Phlebotomy simply means the removal of blood from the body. You are probably most familiar with blood being taken for medical testing, but another common reason is for donation. Usually it's a phlebotomist, a nurse, or a technician that performs the procedure.

Types of Equipment

The equipment used for phlebotomy is specific to the person who will have their blood taken, and also specific for the reason it will be taken.


The needle is what punctures your skin when you have your blood taken. It is placed inside a vessel (such as a vein or artery), usually on the inside of the elbow. The length varies, but for phlebotomy 1-inch needles are usually used. They also come in different thicknesses, or gauges, based on patient preference, the reason for the blood draw, and the type of patient. The most common gauges for phlebotomy range from 18- to 25-gauge, with 18 being the thicker needle.

For example, a small child who needs to have their blood tested will probably have a smaller gauge needle (such as 21 to 25) used to take their blood. This is because their veins are too small for a larger needle. A larger sized 18-gauge needle may be chosen for blood donations because it can remove blood faster. In this case, it will travel from the needle to a tube and then a collection chamber.

Syringes or Adapters

A syringe is a tube with a plunger attached. It twists onto a needle, making a tight fit. Blood is collected into the syringe, and then is transferred into a vacuum tube. Syringes are most often used to collect geriatric and pediatric patients' blood, or any patient whose veins may collapse under the pressure of vacuum tubes.

Instead of using a syringe, an adapter can be used. The adapter is screwed onto a double-pointed needle; one end punctures the skin, the other end attaches to the vacuum tube. The blood flows right into the tube and goes straight to testing. In a healthy adult, the adapter will be used to collect blood efficiently.


Tourniquets are smooth, stretchy bands, about an inch thick, and are tied a few inches above the blood-collection site. By tying the tourniquet here, blood pools in the lower part of the extremity. This makes the vessel larger, which helps in both identifying its location and in blood removal.


Gloves prevent any exchange of body fluids. There are laws in place that mandate workers to wear gloves during phlebotomy.


Antiseptics are used to clean the area where the needle will be inserted. The last time you had your blood taken, the provider probably swabbed the puncture site with alcohol before they started. The alcohol acted as an antiseptic to remove any germs present on your skin. This prevented contamination of the blood sample, and also decreased the chance of infection where the needle pricked you.

Vacuum tubes

Vacuum tubes basically suck the blood from the vein. They can do this because they are under negative pressure, and when punctured by a needle, pull blood inside the tube. A double-pointed needle is used; one end to puncture the skin, the other end to attach to the vacuum tube. Vacuum tubes are used when obtaining samples for testing, not for donation.

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