It’s In You to Give: Beginner’s Guide to Giving Blood

Every single day, all over the world, there are patients in need of blood. According to statistics provided by the Red Cross, someone in the United States requires blood every two seconds and about 36,000 red blood cell units are needed on a daily basis. The demand is constant, and the donation process easy.

Besides the reality of the constant demand, why should someone take the time to give blood? If you’ve never donated blood before, the idea of needles might sound off-putting. The fact of the matter is blood donation is one of the easiest ways to help other people and their families. Our bodies continuously produce new blood cells and we always have it to give. Taking 10 minutes to donate can give a whole lifetime to someone else.

When Should You Give Blood

Waiting until an emergency happens is not a good approach if you want to give blood. If people give blood regularly, the stock is already available in a time of crisis. By thinking ahead, we can help ensure the survival of individuals in need.

After blood is donated, the shelf-life is only 42 days. Despite this limitation, hospitals all over the country use blood in transfusions every day, making a constantly renewed supply necessary in order to provide for patients. When the donation process is so quick and painless, regular donation goes a long way to help patients in need.

If you’ve decided to donate blood for the first time, it may be comforting to learn how simple the process is and some practices to ensure an easy, straightforward donation experience.

KieferPix / Shutterstock

The Components of Blood: What You’re Donating

When you go to blood bank, there are actually a number of basic blood components that can be donated. Everyone’s blood contains erythrocytes that carry oxygen (red blood cells), leukocytes that attack intruders like bacteria (white blood cells), the liquid medium plasma, and platelets that help clot blood. Every component is incredibly important.

As many people know, there are also multiple blood types. They do not mix well due to different antigens on the surface of the cells, so it’s necessary to match patients up with their own individual blood types: either A, B, AB, or O. Receiving the wrong blood type is dangerous, so hospitals require a collection of each to provide for everyone.

Csaba Deli / Shutterstock

Eligibility Requirements

Although there is a standard list of eligibility requirements, some variance exists from state to state. Every donor center will provide specifics, so check with them beforehand if you are concerned.

Standard eligibility requirements dictate that donors are at least 17 years old (this can vary in certain states), weigh more than 110 pounds, and do not have any active infections or low blood pressure at the time of donation. If your hemoglobin levels are low during the time of the finger stick test, you also may be turned away.

Other factors that may lead you to be turned away include recent visits to countries determined at-risk for malaria, hepatitis, and other infections, and if you’ve received a tattoo in the past year while donating in a state with strict regulations. The specific regulations in your state can be determined by calling your donation center.

Yeexin Richelle / Shutterstock

The Donation Process: Finding a Donation Center

The first step to donating blood is discovering a donation center near you with either the Red Cross or America’s Blood Centers. Schools and universities also often advertise blood drives. Once you have a date, time, and location, you’ll be able to prepare.

Pressmaster / Shutterstock

The Donation Process: When You Arrive

Donation centers are always staffed with specialized medical staff, who can answer your questions and make your experience hygienic, healthy, and painless.

When you first arrive to the donation center, a staff member or volunteer will register you, providing you with basic information regarding donor eligibility and what to expect during your visit. After you review this information, you will be asked to provide a few forms of identification, such as a driver’s license, a student ID card, or a donor card.

At this point, a staff member or volunteer will hold a brief interview with you to determine your eligibility for blood donation. You will be asked a brief list of confidential questions regarding your health and travel history. Be sure to provide them with accurate information concerning any medications you take, as this may also affect your eligibility. Staff will also conduct a mini-physical, checking your blood pressure and hemoglobin levels with a finger stick test.

Pressmaster / Shutterstock

The Donation Process: Donating Blood

If you are determined to be eligible to give blood, a trained health care professional will accompany you as you sit or recline during the donation. The actual process of extracting blood only takes about 10 minutes total. Staff will cleanse the bend in your arm and use a freshly opened sterile needle to draw one pint of blood from this physical location. You will only feel a quick pinch that lasts a few seconds.

Some types of donation take a little longer, such as plasma and platelet donation, which can take up to two hours. If this is what you are doing, you will be prepped by a health care professional ahead of time.

Once about 10 minutes have passed and staff has collected enough blood, your arm will be bandaged at the donation site. It is suggested that this bandage remain on your arm for at least five hours.

A3pfamily / Shutterstock

The Donation Process: Finishing Up

Bandaged up and finished, most donation centers will then provide you with a juice box and a few snacks to keep you hydrated and help your body quickly replenish blood cells. These small provisions prevent you from becoming lightheaded or dizzy afterwards.

Meanwhile, your blood is sent to a laboratory that processes donated blood. At these locations, blood is tested multiple times for diseases such as hepatitis and HIV, and categorized accurately by blood type. If anything is discovered to be wrong with the donated blood, the donor will be notified.

Tyler Olson / Shutterstock

Here are some helpful reminders for both before, and after the donation process:

General Tips: Before Donation

  • Wear clothes to your blood donation that make it easy to access the inside of your arm. Consider wearing short sleeved shirts or tank tops.
  • If you you’re afraid of needles but are still dedicated to giving blood, there are a few excellent resources that provide tips to overcoming this fear at the Red Cross and Livestrong.
  • In the days before donating, avoid eating fatty foods. Instead, eat a lot of iron-rich foods, such as pork, poultry, beans, seafood, spinach, or peanuts.
bitt24 / Shutterstock

General Tips: After Donation

  • After you’ve donated blood, refrain from any intense exercising. This might make you light-headed or prone to fainting.
  • Drink plenty of fluids, but avoid beverages with either caffeine or alcohol for an entire day after giving blood.
  • Clean the inside of your arm around the bandage with a small amount of soap and rinse with water to keep the area clean and avoid irritation.
  • If you do experience lightheadedness after giving blood, take a moment to sit or lie down until the feeling passes. Drink some fluids if this occurs as well.
  • If the donation spot on your arm is sore afterwards, you can apply ice for the first 24 hours. After a day has passed, place moist heat on the area
  • If you do not feel well after donating blood and the feeling does not go away, please do not hesitate to contact your donation center or a doctor’s office.
imtmphoto / Shutterstock

If you have additional questions or want more information on eligibility or finding a donation center, more helpful guidelines and tips can be found on the Red Cross website.