Why Donate Blood?

woman's hand with red squeeze; donating blood

As you plan small acts of kindness or ways to volunteer, don’t forget the impact of blood donation. Why donate blood? Joni Baker, clinical laboratory manager for UnityPoint Health, explains how something so simple can make such a positive difference in our world.

How Many People Donate Blood?

Less than 10% of eligible donors give. Blood donation is a safe process, regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and the Association for the Advancement of Blood and Biotherapies, to make sure the donor, blood supply and recipient stay protected.

What is the Rarest Blood Type?

In the United States, Baker says group AB is the rarest blood type, followed by group B. Group A and O are the most common blood types. Baker breaks down which blood types can give to one another:

  • Group O red cells can be given to anyone (universal red cell donor is group O). O donors are sought after because their cells can be transfused to the most recipients.
  • Group AB red cells can only be given to someone who is group AB. Group AB can also receive a transfusion of red cells of any type: AB, A, B or O.
  • Group O can only receive transfusion of O red cells.

Can I Donate Blood?

Baker outlines the blood donation rules you need to know:

  • You must be 18 years old or have parental permission if you’re 16 or 17.
  • You must weigh 120 pounds or more.
  • You need a valid form of identification.
  • You need normal blood pressure, pulse, temperature and hemoglobin levels.
  • You can’t be pregnant.
  • You can’t have a cold or illness.
  • You can’t be under a doctor’s care for any serious illness or injury.

Baker says the most common reason someone is unable to donate is because of low hemoglobin. Acceptable hemoglobin is 13.0 grams/deciliter for males and 12.5 grams/deciliter for females.

“You need iron to make new red cells to maintain your hemoglobin. Eating foods high in iron, such as fortified cereals and grains, spinach, green lentils, beans, nuts and many other foods can help,” Baker says.

In almost all cases, medication will not disqualify you as a blood donor. However, there are a few drugs of special consideration. If you’re concerned, talk to your doctor before donating.

COVID-19 and Blood Donation

The COVID-19 virus is not transmitted through blood donation or transfusion. 

You can donate blood after receiving either the mRNA (Moderna or Pfizer) or viral vector (Johnson & Johnson/Janssen) vaccines, as long as you are feeling OK. If you’re experiencing any side effects (fever, chills, fatigue etc.) from the vaccine, you should wait a couple of days to donate until those clear.

If you’ve recently had the COVID-19 virus, talk to your blood center to determine when you can safely donate.

For any other questions on blood donation rules or eligibility, Baker encourages you to check on your local blood center’s website or simply giving them a call.

What’s the Biggest Benefit of Blood Donation?

The biggest benefit of blood donation is that it saves lives. Donations are essential for trauma patients and people undergoing a variety of situations, including surgeries, transplants, chronic illnesses, blood disorders including sickle cell disease and hemophilia, preterm birth and cancer. 

“Because more than 90% of people eligible to donate do not, there’s always a need for donors. Life-saving blood components can support recovery from injuries or disease. A single blood donation can give one to three patients a better outcome, a chance at survival. Nine out of ten people who live to the age of 70 will use blood during their lifetime.”

Thank the Donor – Virtually

With the Thank the Donor program, patients, families and hospital staff can reach out and offer their anonymous appreciation to the person who donated blood via a digital platform.

How Long Does Blood Donation Take?

The entire donation process takes approximately one hour, with about 10 minutes of that time being the actual blood donation. The whole blood donation volume is usually about 500 milliliters, or one pint. 

“Eat a meal or snack and drink plenty of water before you plan donate. If you can, incorporate extra salt into your meals and snacks on the day of your gift. After you finish, you’ll get a beverage and snack to replace volume,” Baker says.

What are the Steps of Blood Donation?

  • Registration. Donors give required information and show identification.
  • History screening. Donors answer a series of health and lifestyle questions and get a mini-physical.
  • Donation. Donors sit down and roll up their sleeve to give.
  • Snacks. It’s time to rest and relax after the work is done.

Does Giving Blood Hurt?

When the needle is inserted, you may feel uncomfortable but shouldn’t while blood is being drawn.

If your arm feels sore after donating, consider taking an over-the-counter pain reliever with acetaminophen to alleviate the achiness. There’s a chance you’ll feel some weakness in the arm where you donated as well, so try to avoid physical activity or heavy lifting for at least five hours.

“With a single blood donation, you’ll do more to help others than most people do in a lifetime,” Baker says.

How Often Can You Donate Blood?

Donation can be a whole blood donation (red cells, plasma and platelets) or an apheresis donation, where one component of blood, such as red cells or platelets, is shared and the other components are returned to the donor. Whole blood donations can be made every eight weeks, up to six times per year.

Baker says another type of donation is called double red cell donations, which can be made every 112 days, up to three times per year.

“A double red cell donation is an apheresis process where the whole blood is removed, and the red cells separated, while the plasma and platelets are returned to the donor. A double red cell donation results in two red cells that can benefit two recipients,” Baker says.

How Can I Donate Blood Near Me?

UnityPoint Health receives blood supply from local organizations mostly in Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin and uses those donations to save lives. Ready to make a difference? Find a location near you through American Red Cross, LifeServe Blood Center or ImpactLife.

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