Updated July 30, 2009
Blood donation is quick, easy and nearly painless. Yet fewer than five
percent of Americans eligible to donate actually donate each year. A single
unit of blood can be used to help several people. One out of every three people
needs donated blood in his lifetime and, on any given day, approximately 39,000
units of red blood cells are needed by patients in the United States.
Blood supply levels typically fluctuate during the year but the need for blood is constant. Blood transfusions replace blood loss from trauma such as car accidents; platelets are used to treat patients with low platelet counts, such as cancer patients going through chemotherapy; and plasma is used to treat patients with clotting disorders.
The College of American Pathologists provides a free Internet-based service that will help remind you to schedule regular blood donations.
Visit MyHealthTestReminder.org to receive an e-mail reminder to schedule your blood donation. On the date you select, you will receive an e-mail that reminds you to call your local blood donation center or hospital to schedule an appointment.
For additional information on donating blood, visit:
American Association of Blood Banks (AABB)- www.aabb.org
American Red Cross - www.redcross.org
America’s Blood Centers - www.americasblood.org
What happens when I donate?
Before you donate, it’s a good idea to eat a good meal, get plenty of rest and drink extra fluids. You will be asked to complete a form regarding your health and lifestyle, and you will be asked to show an ID. You will also be asked health history questions in a private, confidential interview.
Your temperature, blood pressure and other vital signs will be noted. Your arm will be cleaned and a needle inserted to draw the blood into a container. Blood will be collected in a container for approximately seven to 10 minutes. After that time, the needle is removed and a bandage placed on your arm to cover the site.
After you donate, staff will give you a drink to replenish lost liquids. Drink more beverages than usual but not alcoholic beverages. Refrain from smoking right after donating. After about an hour you may resume regular activity. Strenuous activity should be restricted, however, until the next day.
Who can donate?
You must be in good health and at least 17 years old (although some states permit younger people to donate if donors have parental consent) to donate blood. Minimum weight requirements may vary, but a weight of at least 110 pounds is generally an accepted guideline. You can donate every eight weeks (56 days) if you donate whole blood. If you are donating other blood components, such as platelets or plasma, you may donate more frequently.
Who can’t donate?
You may not donate if:
- You have ever used a needle to administer a non-prescription drug
- You have HIV infection or AIDS
- You are male and have had sexual contact with other men
- You are a hemophiliac
- You have certain parasitic infections
- You have Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD or “Mad Cow” disease) or if someone in your immediate family has CJD
- You have had hepatitis since your eleventh birthday
In addition, using some prescription drugs may lead to deferral. And if you have engaged in heterosexual relations for money or drugs, you may not give blood for one year. If there is any reason to suspect that you might carry HIV—the virus that causes AIDS—do not give blood. Blood donations should not be done in order to get an AIDS test, because the HIV antibodies do not show up for weeks after an infection has occurred. Consequently, if you have possibly recently been exposed to HIV, you might incorrectly test negative for HIV at the time of blood donation. If there is the slightest chance you might have HIV, discuss this with your doctor or go to your local health department to get tested.
Blood collection safety and screening for infectious diseases
There is no risk of transmitting an infection from one donor to another through the donation process. Sterile, disposable needles are used for each donor, and the used needle is destroyed. Federal regulations require that donors answer a variety of health history and lifestyle questions.
The blood supply is the safest it has ever been because of several layers of security that have been put into place to ensure that blood donations are not compromised. All blood centers and hospitals that collect blood are required to register with the FDA and are inspected at least once every other year. Federal regulations require that once a donor is accepted, his or her blood is tested for several infectious diseases, and if found positive, the blood is not used for transfusion. Additional safeguards include: regular inspection of the blood centers, a health history conducted for every donor and the testing of each unit of donated blood for several infectious diseases.
What are platelets?
Platelets are specialized blood cells that help the blood clot. Platelets control bleeding by allowing the blood to clot. Chemotherapy and radiation treatments often interfere with the body’s production of platelets. Without regular platelet transfusion, patients undergoing these treatments can literally bleed to death.
When platelets are collected, blood is taken from the donor and placed in a special machine that separates the blood into its component parts. The platelets are collected in a special container and the rest of the blood is returned to the donor. This donation process is the most effective way of collecting platelets. Platelets can also be separated from a unit of donated whole blood, but fewer platelets are collected. Platelets can be stored at room temperature for up to five days. You can donate platelets as frequently as every 48 hours but no more than 24 times a year.
What is plasma?
Plasma is the fluid in which red blood cells, platelets and other clotting factors reside. Plasma is primarily made up of water and allows the blood to flow through the body. In addition to supplying important proteins necessary for blood clotting and immunity, plasma transports sugars, salts, and hormones, and helps maintain a person's blood pressure.
Donating plasma is similar to donating platelets: whole blood is separated into its component parts and the plasma is removed. Once separated, the plasma is collected in a special container and the rest of the blood is returned to the donor. Plasma can be stored frozen for up to one year.
Plasma can be donated as frequently as every 48 hours but not more than twice in seven days. Plasma can also be produced from a whole blood donation.
Where to donate
Blood donations are accepted at American Red Cross centers, America’s Blood Centers and hospitals among other locations. In addition, churches, businesses, colleges and community organizations often have blood drives. The screening process is generally the same no matter what location you select.