Blood donations are essential to helping patients survive everything from catastrophic injury to cancer treatment. And with regular blood shortages across the United States, blood donation is more important than ever.
Every two seconds, someone in the United States needs blood, according to the American Red Cross. Yet only about 3% of age-eligible people donate blood each year.
Giving blood is a vital resource for your local community — and it has some surprising benefits for the donor. Learn more about the health benefits of blood donation.
Never Miss a Beat!
Subscribe to Our HealthBeat Newsletter!
Thank you for subscribing!
You can now select the specific newsletters you'd like to receive.
You are already subscribed.
Subscribe to more newsletters in our email preference center.
Sorry, an error occurred. Please try again later.
Get Healthy Tips Sent to Your Phone!
Health Benefits for Blood Donors:
- Reduces toxic iron stores in the body. Although iron is a vital mineral to the body, iron intake of 45 mg or more per day for an extended period can lead to hemochromatosis, or “iron overload.” The body uses iron to produce hemoglobin, which is the component of red blood cells that carries oxygen. Excess iron in the body promotes production of reactive oxygen species and free radicals, increasing risk of a variety of health problems. Regular donation combats the buildup of harmful iron stores and improves overall health long-term.
- Reduces risk of heart disease. Donating blood can help individuals who consume many iron-rich foods by limiting iron buildup and oxidation in the body. Iron buildup and oxidation is heavily linked to heart attacks and strokes, and regular donation reduces the health risk of these events by 88%. Blood donation also decreases blood viscosity, reducing friction on blood vessels, capillaries, and arteries, and resulting in less damage to the arterials walls and lesser arterial plaque buildup. This specific sequence further lowers the risk of heart attack to regular donors.
- High calorie burn. Individuals typically burn about 650 calories during the donation process. As blood volume in the body is replaced throughout the following 48 hours, there is a significant calorie burn as well as an increased quality of body function due to the surge of new blood.
- Reduces risk of cancer. Studies have shown that regular blood donors have lower rates of cancer compared to non-donors. High rates of iron buildup and oxidation place excess stress on the organs and accelerate the aging process. By reducing these bodily stressors through blood donation, cancerous tumor growth rates fall as a result.
- Supports liver health. The liver is responsible for removing toxins from the body, and without a fully and effectively functioning liver, toxin buildup can create a host of life-threatening medical issues. When the liver becomes overloaded with iron removal, excess iron is deposited in the pancreas, heart, and liver. Iron deposits are toxic to these organs. Excess iron also induces cellular damage and liver cirrhosis. Donating blood is a great way to offload pressure from the liver by reducing iron buildup.
- Medical examination before donation. Before donating blood, each volunteer is given a mandatory medical exam to ensure that they are healthy enough to give blood.
Requirements for blood donation
Not everyone is eligible to donate blood. Below is a non-exhaustive list of individuals who are unable to donate blood.
- Anyone who has injected recreational drugs, steroids, or other substances in the past three months.
- Anyone who has a fever at the time of donation, states that they do not feel well, or is currently taking antibiotics.
- Anyone who is under the age of 16.
- Anyone who has tested positive for HIV.
- Anyone who received a tattoo at a non-regulated facility in the past 12 months.
- Anyone who received a body piercing without single-use equipment in the past 12 months.
- Any males who have had sexual contact with other males in the past three months.
- Anyone who has a congenital coagulation factor deficiency.
- Anyone who has engaged in sex for money or drugs in the past three months.
- Anyone who has lived with or had sexual contact with a person who has viral hepatitis in the past 12 months.
- Anyone who has traveled to a country in the past three months where malaria is endemic.
- Anyone who has taken the discontinued psoriasis medication etretinate (also called Tegison).
- Anyone who is pregnant or who has given birth in the past six weeks.
- Anyone who has had minor surgery in the past 24 hours.
- Anyone who has had the tick-borne disease, babesiosis, or Chagas disease.
- Anyone who has risk factors for the brain disorder Creutzfeldt-Jakob.
- Anyone who has been treated for syphilis or gonorrhea in the past year.
- Anyone who is currently suffering from the flu, a cold, or allergies.
- Anyone who has received a blood transfusion, experienced an accidental needle stick injury, or received a skin/bone graft or tissue/organ transplant in the past 12 months.
- Anyone who spent three months or more in the United Kingdom between 1980 and 1996.
- Anyone who has spent at least five years total time in France or Ireland between 1980 and 2001.
- Anyone who received a blood transfusion in the United Kingdom or France after 1980.
How to Prepare for Your Blood Donation:
There are a few things that you should know before you donate blood.
- Blood donation takes approximately one hour. Make yourself comfortable! Bring a book, movie, or music to relax with during your donation.
- Wear a short-sleeved shirt. Short-sleeved shirts make it easier to access arms during donation. If this is not possible, wear a shirt with sleeves that can be adequately rolled up.
- Rest up before your donation and clear your calendar afterward. A good night’s sleep is important before your donation and lowers risk of sickness after donation. Avoid strenuous physical activity after your donation and give yourself time to rest and recover.
- Hydrate and eat a healthy meal before your donation. Drinking plenty of fluids before your donation is essential. Aim to drink an extra four, 8-ounce glasses of water in addition to your typical number of fluids. Eating foods rich in iron and Vitamin C before your donation is also important. Such foods include red meat, poultry, fish, beans, spinach, raisins, or iron-fortified cereals.
- If you are donating platelets, do not take aspirin for two days before your appointment. You will not be allowed to donate if you have consumed aspirin in the past 48 hours.
- Remember to bring a photo ID and a medication list! To donate, you will need to bring your donor card, driver’s license, or two other forms of identification. Additionally, you will need a complete list of all your current prescription and over-the-counter medications to complete your medical background.
What to Expect During your Donation
- After checking into your donation center, you will sit or lie down in a reclining chair. A staff member will extend your arm along an armrest. If you prefer a certain arm be used for your donation, let your nurse know.
- A tourniquet will then be placed on your upper arm. This will make your veins easier to see and insert a needle into.
- A nurse will clean the skin on the inside of your elbow with an antiseptic wipe. This ensures that the donation side is clean.
- A sterile needle will be inserted into a vein. The needle will then be attached to a thin plastic tube and blood bag. The tubes will fill first, as they are collected for testing reasons. After the tubes have filled, blood will fill the bag.
- The bag will fill with about a pint of blood. This process will be complete after about 10 minutes.
- The needle will be carefully removed, and a dressing will be placed on the needle site. Congratulations, you’ve successfully donated blood!
After Your Blood Donation
You will be instructed to sit in an observation area for 15 minutes after your donation, where you can rest and eat a light snack. After donating blood, continue drinking extra fluids and avoid strenuous activity for the rest of the day. Keep your bandage dry and on your arm for the rest of the day.
Donating blood can cause several unpleasant side effects. Watch for these symptoms in the hours following your donation.
- Bruising. Unfortunately, bruising after blood donation is very common. If you are experiencing this side effect, apply a cold pack to the area periodically in the following 24 hours after blood donation.
- Dizziness, lightheadedness, and nausea. If you experience these symptoms, lie down with your feet up until the feeling subsides. After several hours, if you still feel dizzy, lightheaded, or nauseous, call your donation center for further care.
- Bleeding. Your needle site might bleed after removing your dressing. If this happens, apply pressure, and raise your arm above your heart for three to five minutes. After this time, if the bleeding has not stopped, contact your doctor.
- Physical weakness and fatigue. Donating blood frequently causes physical weakness for several hours after your appointment. Schedule a restful day after your donation and avoid exertion.
- Chills. Sudden loss of blood pressure and blood volume can cause chills. Regenerating your blood supply takes time. Before you are back to your normal blood supply levels, you may experience chills or sweating. Minimize this side effect by drinking and eating properly both before and after your donation.
- Fainting. This symptom sometimes occurs after donating blood, often after standing for a long time or standing up abruptly after donation. Fainting results from a drop in blood pressure. If you feel like you might faint, you should lie down, elevate your legs, eat salty foods, and drink plenty of fluids.
- Pain, tingling, or numbness in the arm. If you are experiencing pain, tingling, or numbness in the arm from which you donated blood, contact your doctor immediately.
- Fever and swelling. If you have symptoms of fever and swelling, this might be a sign of a bacterial infection. Contact your doctor or locate your nearest emergency department.
Connect with UPMC
Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 800 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, West Virginia, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals. We are dedicated to providing Life Changing Medicine to our communities.