Modern phlebotomy began in ancient culture as bloodletting, although today it is performed by trained professionals in a medical setting. The history of phlebotomy has evolved a great deal over the past century. While the bloodletting of the past is now seen as barbaric and harmful, phlebotomy is now used primarily to withdraw blood for testing or to treat a number of health conditions.
What is Phlebotomy?
Phlebotomy has a simple definition, and is often explained as a surgical puncture or opening in a vein as a means of introducing fluids or removing blood. The term’s early use, however, referred to a procedure known as bloodletting. Although bloodletting is now seen as unhelpful in the least, and potentially harmful, it gave rise to a procedure now implemented in hospitals and clinics all over the world. Phlebotomists today use the procedure to introduce medication intravenously, as well as withdraw blood for diagnostic purposes.
Bloodletting of the Past
The history of phlebotomy began with ancient cultures that believed it was an effective way to treat virtually any illness. Egyptians, Greeks and the Romans used bloodletting to rid the human body of evil, while the Mesopotamians and Mayans used it for ritualistic purposes. It was the Greeks, however, in the fifth century that helped bloodletting become known as a real medical procedure, allowing it to spread through other civilized areas. Interestingly, it’s believed that bloodletting is the inspiration for the red and white barber pole, as the procedure became as commonplace as a haircut.
Early History of Phlebotomy in the US
The Pilgrims are often credited as bringing phlebotomy to the United States in the 18th century. It was common at this time to use lancets that were fired into veins at multiple locations, withdrawing up to four pints of blood. Over time, other instruments were developed in an effort to improve the technique. Bloodletting was a popular service for almost one hundred years, although it went out of fashion as many harmful incidents came to light. A famous example is the treatment of George Washington, who died in 1799 after receiving a treatment that took nine pints of blood.
Modern Phlebotomy Procedures
Although bloodletting was eventually seen as harmful, it is still used to treat a few conditions like hemochromatosis. Still, the practice evolved over time into modern-day phlebotomy, which uses a small surgical puncture to withdraw blood or introduce fluids. Phlebotomy is used every day to diagnose health problems and introduce medication intravenously. It’s also used in life-saving procedures like blood transfusions. Today, trained professionals called phlebotomists withdraw blood in clinics and hospitals all over the world.
The history of phlebotomy is an interesting story and has given modern medicine an invaluable tool to diagnose and treat illnesses. While earlier people thought bloodletting itself was healing, today phlebotomists withdraw blood to use in transfusions and life-saving tests. It’s become a staple of modern medicine and finds its origin in the ancient bloodletting procedures of ancient cultures.
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