What to Know About Becoming a Blood Donor

Editor’s Note: This article is for informational purposes only. You should not use it to replace any professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment of any health issues. Any questions about your blood health should be directed toward a physician, hematologist, or other licensed healthcare professional.

The American Red Cross is experiencing its worst blood shortage in over a decade. Follow these tips for an easy blood donation experience.

Whether you’re looking for a late New Year’s resolution or a way to help those in need, there’s no better time to become a blood donor than January, which for over 50 years has been National Blood Donor Month.

The month not only recognizes those who make regular donations, but it also coincides with one of the most difficult times of the year to maintain sufficient blood supplies, according to the American Red Cross.

And the COVID-19 pandemic has made matters worse. Dr. Claudia Cohn, leader of a nonprofit dedicated to blood transfusions, recently said in an interview that blood banks in some regions of the country only have a one-day supply of blood. Typically, that number is 3-5 days.

“It’s as low as it’s ever been, as far as I’ve seen,” Cohn told NBC News.

Blood donations help those who undergo surgeries, either elective or emergency, and those who regularly need transfusion – such as our Chief Technology Officer Rob Mannino, who has beta thalassemia major and needs blood from four to five donors for each monthly transfusion.

You can help by becoming a blood donor, but there’s a few things you should know before you step into a donation site.

Types of Blood Donations

Before you decide to give blood, you should figure out how you’re going to donate it. Let us explain.

There are actually different types of blood donations, and each one helps different types of people. Depending on your blood type, you may also be a better fit for one over the other.

Blood types

You’re probably most familiar with whole blood donation, which is where you give a pint of blood that’s either used as is, or separated into platelets, red blood cells, and plasma. This type of donation can be done every 56 days, or six times a year, and helps anyone who needs blood. It can be done by people of all blood types.

Power red donation is an automated process that only takes your red blood cells. Basically, it’s the same process as a whole blood donation but a machine separates your plasma and platelets from your red blood cells and returns the first two back to your body. This specifically helps people who need transfusions, which includes those with thalassemia and sickle cell anemia.

Power red donations can be done every 112 days, or three times a year, and while all donors are welcome the Red Cross says people with O positive, O negative, A negative, and B negative are the ideal blood types for this donation.

Platelet donation is similar to a power red donation, but the machine mainly keeps the platelets and some plasma (most of your plasma is returned to your body). Our bodies use platelets to form clots when we’re bleeding so we don’t lose too much blood. Platelet donations are vital because a single donation can yield the same number of platelets as five whole blood donations.

Platelet donations can be done every week, or 24 times a year, and is ideal for people with A positive, A negative, B positive, O positive, AB positive, and AB negative blood types.

Plasma donation is when only blood plasma is collected, returning your red blood cells and platelets to your body during the donation process. Blood plasma helps boost a patient’s blood volume, and is typically used to treat trauma, burn, and shock victims, as well as those with liver disease or clotting issues.

Plasma donation can be done every 28 days, or 13 times a year, and is ideal for those with AB positive or AB negative blood types, as the plasma from these donors can be given to anyone regardless of their blood type.

What to Do Before Your Blood Donation

Once you decide what type of blood donation you want to do, the next step is easy: book an appointment. It goes without saying, but find a day when your schedule is relatively clear to give yourself time to get to the appointment stress-free, and so that you can give yourself time to recover after the donation (you might feel a bit woozy, and that’s normal).

To schedule your appointment, simply visit redcrossblood.org to find a site near you. You can even narrow down what type of donation you want to make.

The night before

It’s the night before your blood donation, and like anything else you want to make sure you’re prepared. Luckily, you don’t have much to do except get dressed in the morning and bring yourself to the donation site (the staff will take care of the rest for you).

That said, you should follow these tips to ensure your health and that of the blood you’re going to be donating.

Healthy plate of food

First, you want to eat iron-rich foods and avoid excess fat. Why no fatty foods? Well, besides your health there’s also the fact that excess fat can affect blood test results needed to see if your blood is safe for use. Basically, your blood will be screened for any infectious diseases and too much fat can interfere with the examination process. So no burgers and fries, at least the night before.

You’ll want to eat iron-rich foods because you want your body to have enough hemoglobin to produce healthy red blood cells, which will come in handy for your donation and when you’re trying to recuperate afterwards.

Secondly, get 7-9 hours of sleep. We shouldn’t have to explain why, but sleep helps regulate your body and lack of sleep can cause, among other things, increased blood pressure. So make sure to catch some quality ZZZ’s.

If you’re preparing for a platelet donation, you should know you can’t take any aspirin 48 hours before your appointment. This is because aspirin can actually decrease the effectiveness of your platelets, essentially making them useless for their intended recipients.

The Day Of

Depending on what time your appointment is, you should try to drink at least 16 ounces of water to make sure you’re well hydrated. This can help reduce any feelings of dizziness or nausea after your donation.

On that note, just know it is normal if you feel dizzy or maybe a little nauseous. You are, after all, donating a pint of blood and your body’s going to feel that impact. This is why proper nutrition, sleep, and hydration is of the utmost importance before your appointment.

The Anemocheck mobile app

Before checking in, make sure to check your hemoglobin estimates using AnemoCheck Mobile! This is necessary because if your levels are too low then you might not be able to donate, because it could put your health at risk. Females need a hemoglobin estimate of at least 12.5 g/dL, and males need a 13.0 g/dL.

Then, simply check into your appointment and follow the team’s instructions. Bring a book, or just scroll on your phone until the process is done. Be sure to take as much time as you need after the donation before driving or doing any other strenuous task.

Oh, and there’s one more important thing to do after your donation: spread the word. Post about it on Instagram, text a friend, or make plans with someone to make another donation in the near future.

For more information on blood donations, visit redcrossblood.org

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