Donate blood to save a life


In this article:

  • Learn some basic facts about blood donation, such as the critical need across the United States.

  • Not everyone can donate blood. People who have recently had a piercing or tattoo, or who have had certain kinds of cancer, are not eligible.

  • We show you how the blood donation process works, from the moment you walk in the door until you leave to go home.

Anyone whose loved one has ever needed a blood transfusion knows how crucial it is to donate blood. Cancer patients, people who are undergoing a major surgery, and car crash victims are just a few of the people who depend on the generosity of others when it comes to blood. Yet over the past year, there has been a critical blood shortage, according to the American Red Cross.

Have you considered donating blood, but aren’t sure whether you would be able to do so, or what it might be like? January is National Blood Donor Month, and we’ve rounded up some facts about blood donation, information about the different blood types and criteria for blood donation eligibility.

Facts about blood donation

Did you know that donating just a pint of blood can save several people’s lives? Or that someone needs blood every two seconds? Here some more facts about blood from the American Red Cross:

  • One out of every 10 patients entering a hospital needs blood.
  • You cannot get AIDS or any other blood disease by donating blood.
  • 37% of the U.S. population is eligible to donate blood, but only 3% of age-eligible people do so regularly.
  • A single car accident victim can require as many as 100 units of blood.
  • About 1,000 babies are born with sickle cell disease every year, which means they will require blood transfusions throughout their lives.
  • The blood type most often requested by hospitals is type O.
  • The average red blood cell transfusion contains about three units of blood.
  • It only takes about 15 minutes to donate blood.

Who can donate blood?

Before you head to a blood drive or blood donation center, you’ll want to make sure you’re eligible. Requirements vary depending on the type of blood donation you want to make, but generally, you need to be 17 or older and in good health. The following are a few reasons why you may not be eligible to donate:

  • You have a recent piercing or tattoo. You will need to wait at least four months before donating blood to avoid possibly passing along the hepatitis virus.
  • You were recently treated with antibiotics. Some infections are transmissible by blood, so you need to wait two weeks after an infection to give blood.
  • You don’t weigh enough. Donors need to weigh at least 110 pounds and be in good health.
  • You have a cold or the flu. Blood donation centers ask you to stay home when you are sick so you don’t spread your illness while you are giving blood.
  • You have had a seizure or suffer from epilepsy. You are prohibited from giving blood because of concerns you may have a seizure while you are doing so.  
  • You’ve had certain types of cancer. If you have had leukemia, lymphoma or Hodgkin’s disease, you cannot give blood for fear of transmitting the disease to the recipient.
  • You have low hemoglobin. At the blood donation center, a staff member will prick your finger and measure the amount of hemoglobin in your blood. Hemoglobin is a protein that contains iron. If your hemoglobin level is too low, you will not be able to give blood.

How blood donation works

If you’ve never donated blood before, or if the last time you donated blood was several years ago, you may be apprehensive about what to expect. Here’s what happens when you give blood:

1.     Registration – Staff members will sign you in, go over basic eligibility and ask to see ID, such as a driver’s license. They will give you general information about blood donation and confirm your complete address.

2.     Health history – You will answer questions about your health history during a private and confidential interview, and tell a staff member about any medications that may still be in your system. The staff member will check your temperature, pulse, blood pressure and hemoglobin level.

3.     Blood donation – If you are donating whole blood, a staff member will clean an area on your arm and insert a brand-new sterile needle for the draw. If you are donating platelets, you will have needles in both arms that are connected to an apheresis machine. You will sit or lie down during the donation, which takes about eight to 10 minutes for whole blood. When the donation is complete, the staff member will remove the needle and place a bandage on your arm.

4.     Refreshment and recovery – After the donation, you will move to the recovery area, where you will have a snack and something to drink. After 10-15 minutes of recovering, you can go home.

How rare is your blood type?

It’s important that people of all blood types donate blood. But some types are rarer than others — and some can help people of many different blood types. Here’s a rundown of the different types of blood. Please note that “positive” blood types can only donate to other positive types, and “negative” blood types can only donate to other negative types.

  • Type O can donate red blood cells to types O, A, B and AB. If you are type O, you are a universal donor. Out of 100 donors, 39 are O+ and seven are O-.
  • Type A can donate red blood cells to types A and AB. Out of 100 donors, 34 are A+ and six are A-.
  • Type B can donate red blood cells to types B and AB. Out of 100 donors, 8.5 are A+ and 1.5 are A-.
  • Type AB can only donate red blood cells to type AP. Out of 100 donors, 3.5 are AB+ and .5 are AB-

So, what are you waiting for? Visit the American Red Cross website to find a blood donation center near you, and save three lives.

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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 Heart & Vascular Team is committed to bringing you many years of expertise and experience to help you understand how to prevent, treat and recover from cardiovascular diseases and conditions. From tips to eating better to exercise and everything in between, our clinical experts know how to help you help your heart.

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