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Who Should Not Be a Blood Donor? And Other Questions You Have About Blood Donation

How long do I have to wait to work out after giving blood? Should I eat something specific beforehand? And why on earth is this blood donation organization asking me so many personal questions? 
 
Blood donation is both important and honorable — but it can come with a lot of questions. While the process from beginning to end only takes a little over an hour, there's a lot to know about how to prepare and how to recover after donating blood.
 
And while you probably know that your blood donation saves lives, you might not know how much it's actually needed and how it benefits those who need it most.
 
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It's clear blood donations are vital in saving millions of lives. Still, you may have questions — and it's important to know the answers before you decide to give blood.
 
Here are the answers to 4 common questions about blood donations.

1. I've heard a lot of reasons why people can't donate blood — what's the truth?

 
Before getting into the details behind blood donation, it's important to know if you're even eligible. You might be thinking: Am I old enough? Will my recent travel keep me from donating? What happens if I don't eat meat?
 
There are a lot of misconceptions out there, but many of the regulations around donation are actually pretty straightforward. And even if you weren't eligible once before, you may still be eligible for another time.
 
Some reasons you may not be eligible for blood donation include if you:
  • Are under 17 years old (in Pennsylvania, you can donate at age 16 with parental consent)
  • Don't feel well, have a fever, or have a phlegm-producing cough at the time of donation
  • Have a health condition where your blood doesn't clot properly, such as hemophilia
  • Have had a blood transfusion in the past year
  • Have leukemia or lymphoma (cancers of the blood) or are undergoing cancer treatment
  • Have ever had certain infections, such as the Ebola virus infection
  • Have gotten a tattoo in the past year in a state that does not regulate tattoo facilities, including Pennsylvania. (District of Columbia, Georgia, Idaho, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah and Wyoming are the only states that do not have state-regulated tattoo facilities).
  • Are pregnant or nursing
  • Are undergoing treatment or have undergone treatment within the past year for certain sexually transmitted diseases, such as syphilis or gonorrhea. (You may still be able to donate if you have a different disease, such as human papilloma virus, genital herpes, or chlamydia if you feel well and meet all other requirements).
  • Have traveled to a malaria-risk country within the past year
     
The list of eligibility requirements for blood donation is extensive. For the full list of eligibility requirements, visit the American Red Cross's eligibility website, which is updated to reflect current requirements.
 
If you're not sure if you're eligible to donate, you can also ask your primary care provider.
 
While it can be frustrating if you want to donate blood but can't right now, it's important to remember that these eligibility requirements help keep you and the person receiving blood safe and healthy.
 
And remember — there are plenty of other ways to help out, such as volunteering, hosting a blood drive, or making a financial donation to a blood donation organization.

2. What actually happens during a blood donation?

 
Even though donating blood can make a huge impact on another person's life, it's a fairly simple process for the donor. The whole thing takes about an hour and 15 minutes — but the actual donation can take less than 10 minutes.
 
Before you donate, you will provide information, such as your name, address, and phone number, and show your donor ID card (if you have one), driver's license, or 2 other forms of ID.
 
Then, staff members will gather your health history during a private interview and perform a mini-physical, check your temperature, hemoglobin levels (a protein in your blood that carries oxygen), blood pressure, and pulse. This is all done to ensure your safety and to be sure your body is equipped to donate.
 
To begin the actual donation process, a nurse will cleanse an area on your arm and insert a needle that's brand new and sterile. You might feel a quick pinch, but it'll be over in a few seconds.
 
While your blood is being collected, you will sit and relax in a chair. During this time, which takes about 10 minutes, you can chat with a fellow donator, put on headphones and listen to music, or even practice doing the ABCs backward. Of course, you can also sit and do nothing at all.
 
Once about a pint of blood has been collected, you're all done. A nurse will place a bandage on your arm — and you can give yourself a pat on the back for changing somebody's life.

3. Should I do anything special after donating blood?

 
In order to avoid any complications, such as fainting or feeling ill, take the following precautions for the rest of the day after you donate blood:
 
  • Drink extra fluids — about 4 more 8-oz glasses
  • Keep your bandage dry for 5 hours
  • Don't do any intense exercising or heavy lifting
  • Eat healthy foods — and maybe eat some that are rich in iron, such as chicken, spinach, or strawberries, to replace the iron you lost
 
Keep in mind that you may experience dizziness or loss of strength for a short period of time. Be careful if you plan to do anything that could put you or others' safety at risk, such as operating heavy machinery.
 
While completely normal, you may experience some side-effects after donating. There are simple ways to address the effects:
  • If the site of the needle insertion starts to bleed, bring your arm above your head and put pressure on the site until bleeding stops.
  • If you develop any bruising, ice the area on and off for 15-minute intervals during the first 24 hours. Then, apply warm, moist heat on and off for 15-minute intervals.
  • If you get dizzy or feel lightheaded, lie down and raise your feet. Stay there until the feeling passes.

4. I loved donating blood — can I come back tomorrow?

 
Donating blood can make you feel good (well, maybe more mentally than physically), especially knowing that you're helping someone in need. Unfortunately, for your safety, you can't donate every day. In fact, you need to wait at least 8 weeks between donations of whole blood.
 
The reason for this is that while the plasma in your blood (which transports blood cells throughout your body) replenishes within 24 hours, the red blood cells need up to 6 weeks to completely replace themselves.
 
Give your body some time, and in the meantime, you can volunteer at a blood drive or set up your own.
 

Giving the Gift of Blood

 
There are many medical supplies and devices that can be manufactured in a facility, but blood is not one of them. From accident and burn victims to heart surgery patients to those battling cancer, blood donations are sometimes critical in treatment.
 
When you donate blood, you play an essential role in the survival of another person. For you, a blood donation may just take an hour out of your day, but for someone else, it may give them their life.
 
Do you have questions about blood donation? Visit RedCrossBlood.org. Check out our Events Calendar for information about the next American Red Cross blood drive at Chester County Hospital. 

Related Information from Chester County Hospital: 

 

 

 

About this Blog

Chester County Hospital's Health e-Living Blog offers a regular serving of useful health and lifestyle information for the residents of Chester County, PA and the surrounding region.

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