How to Donate Blood: Your Questions Answered

By Mali Anderson in Helping Hands

Blood donations are essential for saving lives. According to the American Red Cross, someone in the United States needs blood every two seconds, and one donation has the potential to save up to three lives. Because blood and plasma come from donors and can not be manufactured, your donation means that lifesaving blood will be available for people in the middle of a health crisis.

If you've never given blood, you may be wondering how to donate blood, if any restrictions exist, and if there are any side effects.

Where Can I Donate?

If you reach out to your place of worship, school, or employer, chances are they will know where to donate, as blood drives are often held by local organizations. Another option is to check online. You can search the AABB blood bank locator, for example.

Your donation is then used for a wide range of blood transfusion needs. Blood may be needed for injuries, surgeries, cancer treatments, blood disorders, childbirth, and more.

Cuff to check blood pressure before donating blood.

Who Is Eligible?

While 38 percent of the population is eligible to give, according to the Red Cross, the Mayo Clinic reports that only about 3 percent of age-eligible people in America donate blood each year.

Generally, you must be at least sixteen years old and weigh at least 110 pounds, according to the AABB. It is important that individuals who donate are also feeling well.

Sometimes, individuals meet base requirements but their donation is deferred. According to AABB, this can happen for a variety of reasons. If an individual has injected drugs not prescribed by a doctor, tested positive for HIV, or has other risk factors designated by the blood bank, they may be unable to donate.

But these people still may be able to help. Volunteers are often needed to help organize blood drives or assist at blood banks themselves. Volunteering your time is also a great way to help those in need.

Which Blood Types Are Needed?

Everyone's blood falls within four major blood groups: A, B, AB, or O. In addition to your group, your blood type can be deemed either "positive" or "negative" depending on the presence or absence of a certain protein known as Rh factor. The Red Cross explains that those with an O negative blood type are considered universal donors because their blood can be used in transfusions for any blood type.

Donations from these universal donors are especially useful because their blood can be used in a wide range of circumstances. The Red Cross also cites that only 7 percent of Americans have the universal blood type O negative. That said, every donation type saves lives.

What Should I Expect When I Donate?

When you arrive at a donation center, you will need to show identification and fill out a form that will have questions about your health history, medications, and travel. The form might also include questions about sexual activity and drug use. Blood bank representatives will be available to address any concerns you have.

Next, a medical professional will check your blood pressure, hemoglobin levels, temperature, and pulse. Hemoglobin is a blood protein that carries oxygen through the body. Assessing your hemoglobin level at the time of a blood donation ensures the level will not drop too low through the donation process.

If your hemoglobin level is too low, you may have to donate another day. When there are no issues with your health review, a medical professional will clean and sterilize the area of your arm where the blood will be drawn. They will then draw the blood using a sterile needle. You will feel a pinch when they insert the needle, but for most, the discomfort is minor.

The donation time itself is short, but it may take some time for you to complete registration, screening, and recovery. The whole process will likely take a little more than an hour, but you can ask about specific timelines at the blood donation center location.

How Long Does It Take to Recover?

After donating, you should take time to relax for about fifteen minutes and have a light snack. Often, blood donation centers will offer a couple of cookies and a cup of orange juice or something similar. Once fifteen minutes have passed, you can typically leave.

Immediately following your donation, you should avoid strenuous activities and stay hydrated with water and juices. It is uncommon to experience any negative side effects, but if you feel nauseated, have continued bleeding after removing the bandage from your arm, or feel tingling down your arm, contact your doctor or the blood center.

Homemade juices to stay hydrated after donating blood.

How Should I Prepare for the Appointment?

Get a good night's sleep the night before you donate. The day of your appointment, eat a healthy meal (choose an iron-rich dish, such as a breakfast or lunch oatmeal recipe), and drink an extra 16 oz. glass of water.

How Often Can I Donate Blood?

Many who have become familiar with how to donate blood decide to give regularly. How often you are able to give depends on the type of blood donation.

The most common type of blood donation is a whole blood donation. According to the Red Cross, you'll need to wait fifty-six days after you donate to do so again. The time periods between donations of red cell, platelet, and plasma differ. You can learn more about different donation types on the Red Cross website.

Have you donated blood? Share your reason for donating blood and saving lives with @toms_of_maine on Instagram!

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Why It's Good

Your blood donation saves lives. When you donate successfully, it means blood will be available for people in the middle of a health crisis, when they need it most.