5 Surprising Reasons You Can't Donate Blood

January 8, 2018 Providence Health Team

It's always a good time to make a much-needed blood donation - yet not everyone can do so. Below are five reasons you may not be allowed to give blood. 

Only one in 30 people regularly gives blood, and those who do can be considered medical heroes behind the scenes, helping to keep people alive. It only takes 20 minutes to help someone in urgent need, but not everyone is actually eligible to be a blood donor.

Red blood cells, plasma, and platelets are the lifeline for medical treatments needed by patients all across the country, and keeping up the supply is an ongoing struggle. Almost 40,000 blood donations are needed each day for all sorts of conditions and procedures: Everything from cancer, sickle cell disease, and anemia, to complications of pregnancy, trauma, and surgeries. Blood donations are also used to make immunizations for chickenpox, hepatitis B, and tetanus, as well as clotting factor products for hemophiliacs.

While the American Red Cross and other organizations appreciate all who volunteer to be a donor, there are a number of reasons why some individuals may not be permitted to give blood. Here are the top five:

1. You have a recent piercing or tattoo. If you’ve recently had a tattoo, piercing, semi-permanent make-up –any treatment that pierces the skin -- you will need to wait at least four months before being eligible to donate. The primary reason is to prevent transferring the hepatitis virus. Cosmetic tattoos applied in a licensed establishment in a regulated state using sterile needles and ink that is not reused are acceptable.

2. You have a bad cold or the flu. If you have a fever or a productive cough, or generally feel unwell on the day of donation, you should wait and come back when you feel better. The Red Cross follows this policy as a precaution to prevent the spread of flu during blood drives.​

3. You were recently treated with antibiotics. Those who have completed a course of antibiotics within the last seven days, or have had any type of infection within the last two weeks, are not allowed to give blood. This is because some infections are transmissible in blood. A donor with an acute bacterial infection should not donate, so the reasons why you’re taking antibiotics must be evaluated as well. ​

4. You don’t weigh enough. Donors need to weigh at least 110 pounds and be in generally good health. Donors under the age of 18 also have to meet specific weight and height requirements. Donors under the age of 18 also have to meet specific weight and height requirements. If you are underweight (or have low iron in your blood) you may faint or become dangerously weakened after they take your blood.​

5. You have a new sexual partner. Gay men who have had anal or oral sex with another man must wait 12 months before giving blood. Females whose male partners have slept with other men are ineligible for 12 months as well. Donors of any gender who have slept with a sex worker are also required to wait 12 months before they can give blood. While federal guidelines have been revised in recent years, the waiting period is felt to reduce the risk of human immunodeficiency virus transmission.

Other reasons you may not be able to donate blood:

  • You’ve experienced hepatitis or jaundice in the last year
  • You’ve had certain types of cancer, or are being treated for cancer. Blood cancers like leukemia or lymphoma and Hodgkin's disease disqualify you from donating, to protect both donor and recipient.
  • A member of your family has Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease
  • You’ve been taking certain acne medications, such as antibiotics
  • You’ve had certain immunizations
  • You’ve previously received blood transfusions during a medical procedure
  • You’ve been in a relationship with a drug user (injected)

If you have questions about any of these conditions and donating blood, be sure to consult your doctor.

Visit our provider directory to find a primary care doctor or specialist

How to donate blood

Any time is the perfect time to give the gift of life, through the simple act of donating blood.

Blood donation appointments can be made by applying at redcrossblood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767). Blood donors need to be 17 or older and must have a blood donor card or driver’s license, or two other forms of identification. To save time at check-in, donors can fill out the necessary forms at redcrossblood.org/RapidPass and follow the instructions on the website.

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

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