donating blood

Congratulations! You’ve decided to become a blood donor. It’s one of the most satisfying ways to help others, and you might even save someone’s life.

But now that you’ve decided to donate, you need to know the requirements of giving blood.

Giving Blood Requirements

According to the American Red Cross, someone in the U.S. needs blood or platelets every two seconds. Your donation can help save someone who needs a blood transfusion, following a crash or a medical procedure.

Most healthy people can donate blood. You don’t need to know your blood type in order to donate. Donors of all blood types are necessary.

Restrictions on giving blood

Although most healthy people can give blood, there are some restrictions on giving blood.

You may not be able to donate blood if you:

  • Have gotten a tattoo or piercing in the last 3 months.
  • Are under the age of 17. In some states, the minimum age is 16.
  • Weigh less than 110 pounds.
  • Currently have the cold or flu.
  • Have ever been HIV-positive.
  • Have visited a country with a malaria risk in the past 3 months.
  • Have ever injected illegal drugs.
  • Have given blood in the past 56 days.
  • Lived in the U.K. for 3 months or more between 1980 and 1996, due to risk of mad cow disease.
  • Lived 5 years or more in France or Ireland from 1980 to 2001, due to risk of mad cow disease.

In 2020, the FDA lifted a ban prohibiting veterans and others who’ve lived in other countries in Europe from giving blood. Those countries include Germany, Italy, Belgium, and Spain, among others.

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Tips for Getting Ready to Donate

There are several things you should do before your donation. Here’s how you can prepare to give blood.

  • Drink extra fluids. The Red Cross recommends you drink four extra 8-ounce glasses of water before you donate blood. Drinking water will help you stay hydrated and you will be less likely to feel dizzy or lightheaded after donation.
  • Avoid alcohol before and after donating blood. Alcohol can dehydrate you.
  • Get a good night’s sleep.
  • Wear a comfy, short-sleeved shirt or one with sleeves that you can easily roll up.
  • Bring a book or music to keep yourself occupied and relaxed.
  • If possible, bring a friend to donate with you. Some people feel more relaxed, and time goes faster if you’re not alone.

Should I eat before donating?

It’s important to eat regular meals in the days leading up to your blood donation. Regular meals help keep your blood sugar stable. A snack right before your donation is helpful as well.

It’s best to eat foods rich in iron and vitamin C for a few weeks before donating blood. Lean meats and green leafy vegetables are ideal. Stay away from fatty foods like hamburgers, fries, and ice cream before donating blood.

What to Expect at a Blood Donation Site

If you’ve never given blood before, you may not know what to expect. Here are the basics:

  • Your entire appointment will take about an hour.
  • The actual time of donation is about 10 to 15 minutes.
  • You will donate about one pint of blood. (The average man has 12 pints in his body; the average woman nine pints.)
  • A staff member will check your blood pressure, pulse, and temperature. They will also check your hemoglobin levels with a fingerstick. (If hemoglobin levels are too low, you can’t donate blood.)
  • You’ll fill out a health questionnaire.
  • A staff member will ask you which arm you prefer for the donation and prepare the equipment. They will insert the needle to draw the blood.
  • You may squeeze a stress ball to keep your blood pumping and speed up the process.
  • After your donation, a staff member will remove the needle. They will put pressure on the site with gauze, then put a bandage over it.

Side Effects of Giving Blood

It’s possible you might feel some minor side effects after giving blood. Medical staff will ask you to sit quietly for 15 minutes or so after your donation is complete.

Contact your doctor if you feel any lingering side effects of giving blood after a day or so.

After giving blood, you should:

  • Avoid heavy lifting or exercise.
  • Keep the bandage on for at least a few hours.
  • If the needle site starts to bleed, lift your arm up for five to 10 minutes and apply pressure.
  • Sit or lie down if you feel lightheaded or dizzy.
  • If your arm looks bruised, apply a cold pack periodically for the first 24 hours.
  • Eat iron-rich foods like lean meats and green leafy veggies to replenish your iron supply.
  • Consider taking iron supplements if you donate blood regularly.
  • Drink plenty of water.

NHS, Preparing to Give Blood, Link

American Red Cross, What to Do Before, During, and After Your Donation, Link

American Red Cross, Blood Supply Statistics, Link

American Red Cross, Common Reasons People Can't Donate, Link

World Health Organization, Who Can Give Blood? Link

FDA, Important Information for Potential Donors of Blood and Blood Products, Link

American Red Cross, Eligibility Reference Material, Link

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Many Veterans Who Served in Europe Can Now Give Blood - FDA Lifts Ban Based on Overseas Service, Link

U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: FDA Provides Updated Guidance to Address the Urgent Need for Blood During the Pandemic, Link

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