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January is Blood Donor Month

Blood donation is giving some of your blood so that it can be used to help someone else. Donated blood helps people who have lost blood in an accident or who have an illness such as cancer, anemia, sickle cell disease, or hemophilia.

Donated blood includes red blood cells and other things that make up the blood, such as platelets and plasma. Blood that contains all the parts is called whole blood.

You can donate blood at American Red Cross clinics or other clinics or blood banks. You may be able to donate during blood drives at your workplace.

About 1 pint (480 mL) of blood is taken when you donate. It takes about 10 minutes. The whole process – including answering questions and having a short exam takes up to an hour.

Donated blood is tested to make sure that it is safe to use. It is also checked for its type. This makes sure that the person who needs blood gets the right type.

Who Can Donate Blood?

To donate blood, you must:

  • Be at least 17 years old. (In some states, you can donate if you are 16 years old and get permission from a parent.)
  • Weigh at least 110 lbs. (50 kg).
  • Be in good health.


Some people can’t donate blood because of health or other issues. For example, you may not be able to donate if:

  • You recently donated blood or a blood product. The length of time you must wait between donations depends on the product you are donating, such as whole blood or platelets.
  • You don’t have enough hemoglobin in your blood. Before you donate, you will have a test to check your hemoglobin level.
  • You are pregnant.
  • You have traveled to certain countries.
  • Your blood pressure is too high or too low. Your blood pressure will be checked before you donate.
  • You take certain medicines
  • You have certain health problems, such as HIV.
  • You had a recent needle stick or got a tattoo or piercing.


Having a long-term illness, such as diabetes, doesn’t mean you can’t donate. You may be able to give blood if your health problem is under control. But you shouldn’t donate blood if you feel like you’re getting a cold or the flu.

Before you donate, a health professional will ask about your current and past health to make sure that you can donate. Some of these questions are very personal, so you will be asked them in private. You will be asked these questions every time you give blood, because the list of who can give blood may change, or your health may change.

What Should You Do BEFORE You Give Blood?

You can do a few things before you give blood to make sure that you have a good experience:

  • Make sure you feel good. Don’t give blood if you feel ill.
  • Eat a good breakfast or lunch, but avoid fatty foods as they can affect some of the tests done on donated blood to make sure it’s safe.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Get plenty of sleep the night before.


What Happens When You Donate Blood?

You will fill out some forms and answer some questions about your health.

A health professional will measure your temperature, pulse, and blood pressure. He or she will also use a finger-stick test to make sure that you have enough iron in your blood.

The health professional will clean the arm you will use to give blood. Then he or she will put a needle into a vein on the inside of your elbow. The needle is attached to a bag to collect the blood. You will probably feel a quick pinch when the needle goes in.

You may be given a soft ball or other object to squeeze every few seconds to help the blood flow.

When the bag is full, the health professional will take out the needle. He or she will wrap a bandage around your arm to stop any bleeding.

What Should You Do After You Give Blood?

Right after giving blood, you’ll be asked to sit for a while and have some water or juice and a snack.


When you leave, get up slowly to make sure that you’re not lightheaded.

In the hours after your give blood, make sure to:

  • Drink plenty of fluids to help replace lost fluid.
  • Eat foods that have a lot of iron, such as lean red meat and beans.
  • Limit your physical activity for several hours.


Most people feel fine after they give blood. But if you feel a little lightheaded, lie down for a while. Drink plenty of fluids, and have some snacks. Call the blood bank or clinic if you feel sick within 24 hours after giving blood.

Your body will replace the lost fluid within 24 hours. (It takes a few weeks to replace red blood cells.) You will have to wait 56 days before you can give whole blood again.

What are the Risks of Donating Blood?

There are no health risks in giving blood. You CANNOT get HIV from donating blood. The needle and bag used to collect blood are sterile and prepackaged. A new package is used every time.

You may have a small bruise on your arm. In rare cases, a person’s arm may bleed after the bandage is taken off. If this happens, raise your arm and put pressure on the needle site for several minutes.

Some people feel faint after they donate blood. This is more common for younger people and for people who are donating for the first time. If you have fainted after donating blood and you choose to donate again, be sure to tell the person who is going to draw your blood. Drinking extra water before you donate may reduce this risk.

What Tests are done on Donated Blood?

After donation, your blood is tested for certain diseases, such as hepatitis B and C, HIV, West Nile virus, and HTLV-I/II Viruses. Donated blood must pass all of these tests. If any disease is detected, the blood is thrown away and the donor is notified. The blood is tracked so it can be traced back to the donor and the collection location.

Platelet Donation

Why are platelets so important?

Platelets are tiny cells in your blood that form clots and stop bleeding. For millions of Americans, they are essential to surviving and fighting cancer, chronic diseases, and traumatic injuries. Every 30 seconds someone in the U.S. needs platelets. And because platelets must be used within five days, new donors are needed every day.

Platelet donation is a little different than a regular whole blood donation:

  • Platelets can only be donated at select American Red Cross Donation Centers and it requires an appointment, they cannot be given at a blood drive.
  • Platelet donation uses a machine to extract just your platelets and then returns the rest of your blood back to you.
  • From start to finish it takes about three hours to donate platelets.
  • Both arms are used during a platelet donation. This is because blood is drawn from one arm then the platelets are extracted using the machine, and the remaining blood components are returned to you through the other arm.
  • You will be able to provide in one platelet donation what would normally be collected from up to five whole blood donations. In fact, some platelet donations yield enough platelets for two or three patients.
  • You may be able to donate platelets up to 24 times a year compared to the maximum 6 times a year for a whole blood donation.
  • Here’s a quick illustration of what happens during a platelet donation:
    • A relatively small amount of blood is drawn from your arm and goes into a machine called a blood separator.
    • The blood is rapidly spun, which forces the platelets to separate from the other blood components.
    • These cells then go into a sterile, single-use plastic bag.
    • Meanwhile, the rest of your blood – the plasma, red cells and white cells – is returned to you.
    • This cycle is repeated several times. A single donation of platelets often constitutes several transfusable platelet units.


After a platelet donation, they are immediately tested and prepared for delivery to a hospital. On average, platelets are transfused within 3 days of donation.  Over 1 million platelet transfusions are given to patients in need each year.

Platelets give cancer patients the strength they need to keep fighting. While cancer patients undergo treatment, a major side effect is low platelet count. Without a platelet transfusion cancer patients face life-threatening bleeding because platelets help blood to clot.

Platelets also help patients survive major surgeries or serious injuries. After major surgery or serious injury, patients may need platelets to replace those lost during bleeding. Platelets help keep them alive while they recover.

Platelets give strength to patients with blood disorders and those with transplants. Platelet transfusions go a long way to keep these patients going and live more active, healthy lives.

Plasma Donation

Plasma is one of the key blood components needed for modern medical practice. During a plasma donation, blood is drawn from one arm and channeled through a sterile, single-use collection set to an automated machine. The machine collects select components – plasma only, or a combination of plasma and platelets units – and then safely returns the remaining blood components, along with some saline to you.

Should You Be a Plasma Donor?

If you are a donor with Type AB blood: In addition to donating platelets, your blood type makes you an ideal candidate for donating plasma.

Type AB plasma is universal which means your plasma can be received by anyone, regardless of their blood type.

And because you are among only 4% of the population with this blood type, it makes your plasma in need. Plasma products are used by burn, trauma and cancer patients.

Because of your blood type, a plasma donation can be collected simultaneously with a platelet donation. Plasma can potentially be collected once a month.