According to the American Red Cross, only 1 in 100 people donates blood — even though the need for blood is constant. “Many people are reluctant to make their first blood donation,” the Red Cross notes, “but once they do, they find the donation process to be easy and gratifying.” In fact, one donation can help save up to three lives. However, if you’re thinking of donating blood — for the first time or the hundredth — it’s essential that you learn more about the requirements and restrictions first. In observance of National Blood Donor Month, we’ll tell you everything you need to know before your first visit.
Requirements for Blood Donors
To be a blood donor, there are specific requirements that must be met, including the following:
- You must be at least 17 years old. (Note: Some states allow 16 year olds to donate blood.)
- You must weigh at least 110 pounds.
- You must feel well enough to give blood.
- If you are 18 years old or younger, you must meet certain height and weight requirements.
Even if you meet all of these requirements, you may still be ineligible for blood donation, either permanently or temporarily. It’s also important to note that if you want to donate more than once, or become a repeat donor, you must wait at least eight weeks between blood donations.
Restrictions Associated With Being a Blood Donor
While all blood is tested after it is donated, certain types of bacteria or viruses may not show up in the test results, which is why it’s important to take stock of your own conditions, illnesses and medications before giving blood. If you have the following diseases or conditions, you are ineligible:
- Sickle cell disease
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Hepatitis B or hepatitis C
- Blood cancer
- HIV or AIDS, or if you are at risk for developing HIV
Other restrictions include, but are not limited to:
- If you’ve ever taken IV drugs that were not prescribed to you.
- If you or a first-degree relative suffers from Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.
- If you have had unexplained jaundice since the age of 11.
- If you have ever received a dura mater transplant or have taken human pituitary growth hormone.
- If you were born in and/or lived in certain countries of West Africa.
- If you’ve spent a significant amount of time in countries where mad cow disease is found.
- If you have diabetes and have ever taken bovine insulin made from cows from the United Kingdom.
- If you have ever received a blood transplant in the United Kingdom or Africa.
Even if none of the above applies to you, you may still be turned away from the blood bank. Here are some of the conditions that may make you temporarily ineligible:
- If you have an acute infection, you must wait until it clears up and off antibiotics.
- If you’ve received a tattoo from a non-state regulated facility, or a piercing with non-sterile instruments. In that case, you must wait 12 months to donate.
- If you’ve been treated for syphilis or gonorrhea or have had sexual contact with someone who has hepatitis. In that case, you also must wait 12 months to donate.
- If you’ve been incarcerated for more than three days, you must wait 12 months after your release to donate.
- If you’ve had an organ/tissue transplant or had a blood transfusion that used another person’s blood, you must wait 12 months to donate.
- If you have had a heart attack, angina, angioplasty, or bypass surgery, you must wait six months.
- If you’ve traveled to Iraq, or have traveled to or lived in countries where malaria is found. In that case, you must wait 12 months before being eligible to donate.
- If you are pregnant, you must wait until six months after you give birth.
- If you’ve had certain immunizations or vaccinations, you may have to wait three to eight weeks to donate, depending on what type of shots you’ve had. Consult with your doctor or the blood bank before donating.
Although having to wait can be frustrating, it is the best way to protect yourself and others. And once that waiting period is over, you’ll be eligible to donate time and time again.
What to Expect When Donating Blood
If you meet the requirements, you can technically donate blood — but it’s important to be aware of the process and what to expect from the process. It can be an uneasy experience for some, especially if you’re scared of needles or feel queasy at the sight of blood. Needless to say, being prepared is the best way to feel comfortable and confident about donation.
Before you give blood, consider the following:
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Eat a low-fat, high-iron diet.
- Get a good night’s sleep.
- Make sure you have your ID ready.
- Wear a short-sleeve shirt or a shirt with sleeves that roll-up easily.
- Make a list of medications that may be in your system.
The process of getting your blood drawn may seem daunting, but it’s actually rather straightforward. The steps, as outlined by the Red Cross, are as follows:
- Registration: Here’s where having your ID comes in handy. Before the actual donation starts, you’ll need to show an ID to register. At this point, staff will go over donation information with you.
- Health History & Mini-Physical: You’ll be asked some questions about your health and medical history; staff will also want to know what medications you take and where you’ve traveled. Additionally, they’ll check your pulse, blood pressure, temperature and hemoglobin level.
- Donation: An area on your arm will be cleaned, once a nurse finds a good vein, a sterile needle will be inserted into your arm. The whole process takes 10 minutes at the most, and they’ll draw roughly one pint of blood from you for the donation.
- Refreshments: After donating, you’re invited to the refreshment area, where you can have a snack and something to drink. Be sure to sit a moment, too. A lot of folks feel dizzy, slightly sick to their stomach, or fatigued afterwards.
- Aftercare: Don’t exert yourself. For the rest of the day, be sure to rest and stay properly hydrated and nourished.
Remember that donating blood can be a positive experience. Afterward, you’ll feel good knowing that you’ve helped someone in need.
- “Blood Donation and Collection” via Blood Banking and Transfusion Medicine, U.S. National Library of Medicine
- “Blood Donor Selection: Guidelines on Assessing Donor Suitability for Blood Donation” via U.S. National Library of Medicine
- “Associations of health status with subsequent blood donor behavior—An alternative perspective on the Healthy Donor Effect from Donor InSight” via U.S. National Library of Medicine
- “Blood Donation” via National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI)
- “Blood Donor Selection: Guidelines on Assessing Donor Suitability for Blood Donation” via National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI)
- “Blood Donor Counselling: Implementation Guidelines” via National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI)