Want to give back? Learn how and where to donate blood.

January 5, 2024 Providence Health Team


In this article:

  • There’s more than one kind of blood donation, including whole blood, platelets and plasma.

  • You can learn some surprising facts about blood donation that just might make you reconsider becoming a donor.

  • If you’re nervous about donating blood, we give you some tips on how to make the experience a little easier.

If you or a loved one has ever been in an accident or battled cancer, you know just how important it is to have a steady blood supply. Every day, blood transfusions save lives, but they are only possible when people like you donate blood.

National Blood Donor Month in January encourages Americans to give the gift of life by donating blood. It’s especially timely because winter is one of the most difficult times of the year to collect enough blood, resulting in blood shortages. That’s because bad weather often forces organizations to cancel their blood drives, and people who are sick have to postpone giving blood until they’re well again.

Are you a regular blood donor? If not, would you consider becoming one? Here, Providence gives you some important information about this simple but life-saving act.

Different ways to donate blood

Did you know that the entire blood donation process only takes about 8-10 minutes? It’s a short period of time that can make a major impact on others’ lives. The first step in deciding if you’re ready to donate is to learn about the process and what you can donate.

For instance, you can donate more than just blood. There are several blood products needed by health care organizations around our country, and each type serves an important role in saving lives:

  • Whole blood. The most common type of blood donation, whole blood simply refers to the blood that flows through your veins. It may be given to anyone who has lost significant blood, including during surgery or after a trauma.
  • Red blood cells. When separated from whole blood, red blood cells (RBCs) can be used to help treat anemia.
  • Platelets. Collected during a special process that uses an apheresis machine or separated from a whole blood donation, platelets are often given to cancer patients or individuals undergoing organ transplant surgery.
  • Plasma. The liquid portion of your blood, plasma helps maintain blood pressure, supports immunity, encourages clotting and carries electrolytes to muscles. It is collected during whole blood donation and then separated from the cells and platelets in the blood.

Facts about blood donation

Here are eight facts about donating blood that you may have never heard before:

  1. Someone needs blood every two seconds.
  2. One in seven people entering a hospital needs blood.
  3. Less than 10% of the eligible U.S. population donates blood.
  4. While you can donate red blood cells every 56 days, you can donate plasma every seven days, and platelets every 14 days.
  5. Type O negative blood cells can be given to patients of all blood types.
  6. The average adult has about 10 pints of blood, but a typical whole-blood donation is only one pint.
  7. The average red blood cell donation is about three units.
  8. A single car accident victim can require as many as 100 units of blood.

Nervous about donating? Don’t be!

We completely understand the process can be a little nerve-wracking for first-time (and yes, even repeat donors).

But don’t let that stop you. You can rest assured that the professionals who staff blood drives around our community are experienced and understanding. Here are a few time-tested tips and tricks to help the experience go smoothly for you:

  • Bring a friend. Make a date with a friend or loved one. Not only will you both be doing good for your community, but you’ll also be able to distract each other from the process. Bonus — reward yourself with a fun little outing or treat once you’re finished!
  • Listen to music or an audiobook. Distract yourself with some favorite tunes or a book you can’t wait to finish. Or, cue up your favorite podcast and let yourself be carried away to a different world.
  • Speak up. Let the person drawing your blood know if you’re nervous. They’ll keep up a steady stream of chatter to help distract you and, if you’re interested, share what they’re doing at every step.
  • Don’t look! It can be tempting to watch the process, but if you think you might be squeamish, keep your head turned away from the sterile needle and blood collection bag.

Double-check that you’re eligible

Hospitals around the country are in desperate need of blood products, but, unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that all donations can be accepted. Generally, you must meet the following guidelines for eligibility:

  • Be in general good health.
  • Feel well (not actively sick with an illness).
  • Be at least 17 years old (or have parental consent if 16 years).
  • Weigh at least 110 pounds.
  • Have not donated blood in the last 56 days.

Visit the Providence blood donation page to learn more about whether you’re eligible to donate, and where you can donate near your home.

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Related resources

Donating blood: The facts

Community leaders offer easy ways to give back

Save a life: Be a blood donor

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.

About the Author

The Providence Health Team brings together caregivers from diverse backgrounds to bring you clinically-sound, data-driven advice to help you live your happiest and healthiest selves.

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