Question about donating blood

I donated a pint yesterday, giving me my second gallon (yay me!) and I had a random thought, maybe because I didn’t get a very good poke (blood was spurting out around the needle, and my elbow is sore.)

You poke a hole in your skin, you get a scab. I’m assuming something similar happens to your vein. Since I only have two convenient places where I donate blood (inside both of my elbows) what happens over time to the veins there? Will they get scarred up and it will get harder to jam the needle in?

I relayed your question to my mother, who draws blood from people 3 times a week for lab experiments, and she said that the veins will get scarred and harder to stick with a needle but it’s not usually a big deal (Both to the sticker and the stickee.)

I don’t know for sure, but I’ve been giving blood on and off for about 30 years, always from the inside of one or the other elbow, and this doesn’t seem to be a problem. I’m donating again this Friday, so I’ll ask. I do know that it’s not the EXACT same place every time – the tissue and the veins move around, stretch and retract.

The internal “scab” is going to be a mesh of platelets, red blood cells and fibrin. Over time, the fibrin is broken down and the platelets and red cells released. While there, theplatelets release growth factors that promote healing of the rupture in the vessel. Since cell regeneration is not perfect, fibrotic tissue develops at the rupture site, causing scar tissue. I donated plasma many years ago, and have a fair amount of scar tissue at that site. I have also drawn blood through scar tissue in the vessel, and sometimes it is difficult and painful, and sometimes not. I depends on how well your body heals. I can give graphic detail of what it’s like to insert a needle through scar tissue, but only on request.


I donated last week (and am currently wearing the t-shirt they gave me when I did so) and the tech that took my blood actually commented on the fact that it was obvious I always donate from the inside of my left elbow since he noticed a small scar that I, personally, do not. He then told me about a man that has been donating for fifty years and that he has a really conspicuous bump on the inside of his arm that he sometimes has trouble piercing.

Great, now I’m freaked. Does it always have to be the inside of the elbow? Can it be someplace else, the back of the knee, maybe, or my hand?

You may start to develop scar tissue, but I really wouldn’t get freaked if you aren’t a frequent donor. Most blood donors donate once or twice a year, and it will take a long time for that scar tissue to develop. I donated blood once or twice a year from 1972 to 1995 or so with no appreciable visible scar tissue. I then switched to donating platelets once a month, and it’s only in the last year or so that I started to see some scar tissue building up. It is more evident to the nurses when they try to insert the needle. That’s a lot of donations, though.

I don’t know of anywhere other than the inside of the arm, but there are potentially two veins that they can use, and two arms for a total of four locations.

Don’t get freaked. Another 30±year blood donor here. I almost always have them use my right arm, since I’m left handed. If I look really closely at the skin of my inside elbow, I can detect puncture scars. They are not at all obvious. I’ve never had any problems with the needle stick. Maybe a couple of times I’ve had a little bruising, but I sure can’t remember anything specific.

I’m kinda curious about the answer myself, but no, after many years of donating, it doesn’t seem to be a problem. Now, both of my arms have largish veins close to the surface, so finding them has never been a problem at all. For that matter, there’s an inch or so of length they could use if they felt they needed to do so (AFICT), yet they always stay within the same half-inch.

Not “scars” as such, but an area of tiny dimples on each arm.

I’m actually a bit curious about this, since I’m getting a lot of needles poked into my arms nowadays for medical reasons. Slap it in a spoiler, if you’re worried about grossing folks out.

[tiny nitpick] the place you’re all referring to is not you elbow, that’s the sticky-outy thing on the back of your arm. Blood is drawn from the anticubital space

Learn something new every day! Next time I donate, I shall direct the poker to my left anticubital space. :smiley:

I completely forgot to include this in my earlier post. The Red Cross nurses once suggested to me that I rub Vitamin E on my “anticubital space” :slight_smile: to help break down scar tissue. I’ve never done it because I never remember to pick it up at the pharmacy. I have no idea if it works; they claim that it does. This being GQ, if someone has more information to support or refute this, I would be grateful.

One of the nurses where I donate has been a regular blood and/or platelet donor for a decades. She has been donating platelets once a month for over 15 years. If you look really carefully, deliberately searching for signs, you can make out a couple pin-prick scars.

There is one donor at the clinic who is abnormally prone to scarring, and she has some poke marks, but certainly nothing that is really noticeable without a fair bit of effort. I’m prone to scarring and have been donating blood every 56 days for a few years. You can just barely make out the mark from my last donation, but that gets lost in the wrinkles of my skin in the crook of my elbow.

Some people do get a bit of scar tissue that makes the needle stick a bit more awkward, then they just change arms. I’ve never been able to see the difference though.

So if you’re worried about getting “tracks”, don’t be. (“You” as the general “you” and not necessarily the OP). I do know a few people who are afraid to donate because they don’t want to look like heroin addicts. (Honest, they are afraid of track marks.) Donor clinics are sterile and the poking nurses know what they’re doing, so you don’t get nasty scarring that addicts get from shooting up nasty stuff in less than the most sanitary conditions.

I have been donating blood semi regularly for about 20 years. You can definitely see scarring on the arm where I usually donate. However, you do need to be look for it they basically look like slight changes in the grain of the skin over the vein. So maybe scaring is a little extreme perhaps subtle signs of previous donation is more correct.

When I was in grad school I went to the campus doctor for an ear complaint. The nurse when taking my blood pressure asked if I donated blood. She said she could see the needle marks on my arm.

A buddy of mine donates regularly too, and a nurse said the same thing. She said he looked like a “pin cushion” but we couldn’t really tell without looking closely.

FWIW - he is as white as the Pillsbury Dough boy. The scars looked like bigger pores.

I’ve been donating for over 35 years, 2 - 4 times a year, and I just looked at my thingamajig (left arm) and can’t see any scar tissue. I’ve got a big vein there, and I have high donation speed. Some nurses have noticed that I do donate there, though, so a more trained eye than mine can see it.

Nothing to worry about. Since donating might have saved my life, I’m even more gung-ho about donating than ever.

If we’re going to be picking nits… it’s antecubital with an ‘e’ (see your link).
Donations are usually collected using a 16 or 18 gauge needle which needs a relatively large vein.
The reason why they use the antecubital space is because that’s the safest place to access large veins. There are large veins in your upper arm, legs, chest, neck etc, but they are typically deeper and/or within close proximity to more vital structures such as arteries and nerves. The brachial artery is in the same vicinity of the antecubital veins, it is usually much deeper and pulsatile.

I used to do pheresis every 28 days and I definitely can see and feel scarring (and the phlebotomists feel it). I have crappy veins to begin with and sometimes have trouble squeezing out a full pint. Any scar tissue doesn’t seem to make it much worse though.

The needle, when it first goes in can either get stuck, meaning I have to push harder, or it pushes through layers of fibrotic scar tissue, “hitching” on each layer. It’s a sensation not unlike pushing sharp scissors through two or three sheets of paper held taut. Normally, I feel the resistance of needle give slightly when it enters the lumen of the vein, and I know to stop. That sensation is much harder to pick up on with scar tissue between the skin and the lumen of the vein, and that’s when I start sweating: am I in or not?