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Medicine or Malarkey: Can Donating Blood Ever Be Risky?

January is National Blood Donor Month, but blood donations are needed every day of the year. Want to learn more about blood donation and how to help others in their time of need? Do you meet the requirements for donating blood? Do you know your blood type? Understand more about the importance of donating blood, the potential risks and side effects involved, and what you can expect as a donor today.

Health Benefits of Donating Blood

36,000 pints of blood are needed daily in the United States. The most desirable donors, or universal donors, are individuals with type O blood. Type O donors can give blood to anyone, including those with type O, A, B, or AB blood. People who benefit the most from your blood donation are those who have been in severe accidents, are undergoing surgery, have had pregnancy complications, or struggle with anemia. Just a single donation can make a big difference to someone in desperate need of blood.

Did you know that blood donors may also improve their own health through the donation process? In addition to saving lives, blood donors can benefit from:

  • A 33 percent lowered risk of developing cardiovascular disease
  • An 88 percent lowered risk of suffering a heart attack
  • A decreased risk of certain cancers
  • Losing weight by burning calories

Risks and Side Effects of Blood Donation

Donating blood is not for everyone. Individuals with certain medical conditions or history—such as CJD or having received specific transplants—or on blood thinners are not suitable candidates, and may experience severe complications if they try to donate (a full list of eligibility criteria is provided by the American Red Cross). In addition, there are potential risks that may occur during the donation process, including clotting, infection or possible clerical risks. Some may experience minor side effects after donating blood, such as:

  • Physical weakness
  • Discomfort or pain
  • Bruising
  • Fainting
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

In most cases, there is minimal risk of side effects. According to the American Cancer Society, reactions from blood donation are rare and generally minor if they occur. If you have any concerns about donating blood, you can consult with your primary care physician as to whether you’re a good candidate.

What are the Requirements for Donating Blood?

In order to protect both the donors and recipients, the ACS has put a number of guidelines and regulations in place. Different facilities may vary slightly, but in general, blood donors need to:

  • Be in good health (free of infections, viruses, and other disqualifying diseases)
  • Weigh 110 pounds or more
  • Be 17 years of age or older (parental consent is required for 16-year-olds)
  • Not have donated within the preceding eight weeks (except for specific situations, such as with platelets or other blood product donations)

Individuals who are on certain prescribed drugs may not be able to donate unless they have been off the medication for a specified amount of time. In addition to the basic guidelines, donors must also:

  • Be free of HIV or other infectious diseases;
  • Not be pregnant;
  • Not have traveled to a high-risk country within the last three years; and
  • Not have gotten a tattoo within the last year.

What to Expect When Donating Blood

Before you arrive at the donor center, there are some preparations to make. Before donating blood, qualified candidates should:

  • Enjoy a balanced meal,
  • A good night’s sleep, and
  • Drink extra fluids (non-caffeinated and non-alcohol) prior to making a blood donation.

Upon arrival, be sure to bring a list of current medications, your donor card, and either your driver’s license or two alternate forms of identification. Upon registration, a blood test and a questionnaire will take place to ensure eligibility. After donating, it is highly recommended to drink plenty of water, eat a snack, and take a few minutes to recover before leaving the facility. Side effects like nausea and dizziness can sometimes be delayed.

Healthy adults can donate up to one pint, or one unit of blood at a time, then you must wait at least 56 days before donating again to allow your body time to replenish itself. Although not an entirely pleasant experience for most people, donating blood is a crucial process that benefits thousands of people every day. If you are interested in donating blood, or if you are in need of a blood transfusion, learn more by visiting www.redcrossblood.org today.