Blood is typically drawn from a vein, usually from the inside of the elbow or the back of the hand. The site is cleaned with germ-killing medicine (antiseptic). The health care provider wraps an elastic band around the upper arm to apply pressure to the area and make the vein swell with blood.
Next, the health care provider gently inserts a needle into the vein. The blood collects into an airtight vial or tube attached to the needle. The elastic band is removed from your arm.
Once the blood has been collected, the needle is removed, and the puncture site is covered to stop any bleeding.
In infants or young children, a sharp tool called a lancet may be used to puncture the skin and make it bleed. The blood collects into a small glass tube called a pipette, or onto a slide or test strip. A bandage may be placed over the area if there is any bleeding.
How to prepare for the test
You should not eat or drink for 6 hours before the test. Your health care provider may tell you to stop taking any drugs that may interfere with test results, including folic acid supplements.
Drugs that can decrease folic acid measurements include alcohol, aminosalicylic acid, birth control pills, estrogens, tetracyclines, ampicillin, chloramphenicol, erythromycin, methotrexate, penicillin, aminopterin, phenobarbital, phenytoin, and drugs to treat malaria.
How the test will feel
When the needle is inserted to draw blood, you may feel moderate pain, or only a prick or stinging sensation. Afterward, there may be some throbbing.
Folic acid helps form red blood cells and produce DNA, the building block of the human body, which carries genetic information. It also helps tissues grow and cells work. Taking the right amount of folic acid before and during pregnancy helps prevent certain birth defects, including spina bifida.
Women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should take at least 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day. Pregnant women need even higher levels of folic acid. Ask your health care provider which amount is best for you.
The normal range is 2.7 - 17.0 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL).
Note: Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Talk to your doctor about the meaning of your specific test results.
The examples above show the common measurements for results for these tests. Some laboratories use different measurements or may test different specimens.
There is very little risk involved with having your blood taken. Veins and arteries vary in size from one patient to another and from one side of the body to the other. Taking blood from some people may be more difficult than from others.
Other risks associated with having blood drawn are slight but may include:
Fainting or feeling light-headed
Hematoma (blood accumulating under the skin)
Infection (a slight risk any time the skin is broken)
McPherson RA and Pincus MR. Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 21st ed. Philadelphia, Pa: WB Saunders; 2007:381.
Hoffman R, Benz Jr. EJ, Shattil SJ, et al., eds. Hematology: Basic Principles and Practice. 4th ed. Philladelphia, Pa: Churchill Livingston; 2005:529-32.
Alison Evert, MS, RD, CDE, Nutritionist, University of Washington Medical Center Diabetes Care Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.