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Arterial stick

An arterial stick is the collection of blood from an artery for laboratory testing.

Alternative Names

Blood sample - arterial

How the test is performed

Usually blood is drawn from an artery in the wrist. It may also be drawn from an artery on the inside of the elbow, groin, or other site. A heartbeat (pulse ) is felt by pressing on the area above an artery. If blood is drawn at the wrist, the health care provider will usually check the pulse to make sure blood is flowing into the hand from the main arteries in the forearm (radial and ulnar arteries).

The procedure is as follows:

  • The area is cleaned with antiseptic
  • A needle is inserted. A small amount of anesthetic may be injected or applied before the needle is inserted.
  • Blood flows into a special collecting syringe.
  • The needle is removed after enough blood is collected.
  • Pressure is applied to the puncture site for 5 - 10 minutes to stop the bleeding. You will be checked during this time to make sure the bleeding stops.

How to prepare for the test

Preparation varies with the specific test performed.

How the test will feel

Puncture of an artery may be more uncomfortable than puncture of a vein. This is because arteries are deeper than veins. Arteries also have thicker walls and have more nerves.

When the needle is inserted, there may be some discomfort or pain. Afterward, there may be some throbbing.

Why the test is performed

Blood transports oxygen, food, waste products, and other materials within the body. Blood also helps control body temperature, fluids, and the balance of acids and bases.

Blood is made up of a fluid portion (plasma) and a cellular portion. Plasma contains substances dissolved in the fluid. The cellular portion is made up mainly of red blood cells. But it also includes white blood cells and platelets .

Because blood has many functions within the body, tests on the blood or its components may give valuable clues to help health care providers diagnose many medical conditions.

Blood in the arteries (arterial blood) differs from blood in the veins (venous blood) mainly in its content of dissolved gases . Testing arterial blood shows the makeup of the blood before any of its contents are used by the body tissues.

Normal Values

Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Talk to your health care provider about the meaning of your specific test results.

What abnormal results mean

An arterial stick is done to get blood samples from arteries. Blood samples are mainly taken to measure gases in the arteris. Abnormal results may point to breathing problems or problems with the body's metabolism. Sometimes arterial sticks are done to get blood culture or blood chemistry samples.

What the risks are

Veins and arteries vary in size from one person to another. They can also vary from one side of the body to the other. Getting a blood sample from some people may be more difficult than from others.

Other risks associated with having blood drawn are slight but may include:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Fainting or feeling light-headed
  • Hematoma (blood accumulating under the skin)
  • Bruising
  • Infection (a slight risk any time the skin is broken)

There is a slight risk of damage to nearby tissues when the blood is drawn. Blood can be taken from lower-risk sites, and techniques are used to limit tissue damage.

Special considerations

If blood is easier to get from one location or side of your body, let the person who is drawing your blood know before starting the test.

References

Milzman D, Janchar T. Arterial puncture and cannulation. In: Roberts JR, Hedges JR, eds. Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2009:chap 20.

Updated: 1/22/2013

Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.


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