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Value of Donations

Someone in the U.S. needs a blood transfusion every 2 seconds. They might have diseases like cancer or sickle cell anemia. Or they may have been in a car crash, given birth, or need surgery. But sometimes the blood supply isn’t enough to meet the need. That’s because only 3% of all people donate. The good news is that one donation can benefit as many as three people. Over a lifetime, people who give blood regularly could provide life-giving help to as many as 1,000 strangers.

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Can You Give?

Surprisingly, fewer than 4 in 10 Americans are eligible to donate blood on any given day. Usually, you must be 17 or older and in good health. In most states, the reasons you might not be able to give whole blood, the most common type of donation, include if you:

  • Have a cold, flu, or otherwise are sick on the day of the donation
  • Weigh less than 110 pounds
  • Gave blood within the last 8 weeks
  • Are low on iron
  • Are taking antibiotics, blood thinners, or certain other medications, or recently received hepatitis B or certain other vaccines

Lived in or visited a country with malaria, had symptoms of Zika virus within the last 120 days, or ever had the Ebola virus

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Coronavirus and Donating Blood

There is no evidence that the new coronavirus, called SARS-CoV-2, can be transmitted through blood. Donations are especially needed from people who recovered from COVID-19, the illness caused by SARS-CoV-2, because their plasma, the liquid part of the blood, likely has antibodies that can fight the virus.

Blood donations have fallen off during the pandemic. In response, the FDA loosened the eligibility for donations from men who have sex with men. They now can give blood if they’ve not had sex with such partners in the last 3 months instead of 12 months.

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In-Demand Blood Type

The most sought-after donors are those who have type O negative blood. It’s compatible with all eight blood groups and is often given in emergencies when blood types are unknown. But less than 10% of the population has Type O negative blood. On the other hand, O positive is the most common blood type. So there is always a big need for that, too, as well as for all types of blood.

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Types of Donations

When people think of giving blood, it usually means whole blood. But you can also donate specific blood components. This is done with machines that separate your blood and return the unneeded substances back to your body. Specialty donations include:

Platelets. They make your blood clot and help your immune system. They’re often given to people who have cancer or were injured.

Plasma. This carries nutrients and other essential substances. It’s needed to treat people after accidents, burns, and surgeries.

Red blood cells. These transport oxygen to your organs and tissues to keep them alive. Donors must be taller and heavier than those who give whole blood.

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Prepare for Your Visit

Get a good rest and eat a healthy meal before you head to the donation center or the blood drive site. Avoid fatty foods, and try to drink two extra glasses (16 ounces) of water to prevent dehydration. If you are donating platelets, you shouldn’t take aspirin in the 2 days before you give. Wear a short-sleeve top or a shirt with sleeves that roll up easily to your upper arm.

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Giving Blood

You can do it sitting or lying down on a table with a support for your arm. A staff member will give you’re a mini physical to check that you’re healthy enough to donate. They’ll then take a finger prick sample of your blood to check your iron levels, and they'll take your blood pressure.

The technician will clean your skin and poke a sterile needle into your vein. You might feel a small pinch or sting. A tube attached to the needle funnels your blood into a bag. A typical donation is 1 pint. The whole process takes about 10 minutes. Specialty donations take longer.

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Possible Risks

Donating blood is safe. The FDA oversees all blood banks to ensure that they follow safety guidelines. Needles must be sterile and thrown out after each use so you won’t catch any bloodborne illnesses. You might feel sore or get a bruise where the needle went in. Sometimes you could be dizzy or lightheaded. Drink extra water and take it easy for the rest of the day.

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How Often Can I Give?

A typical donation of whole blood takes out about 10% of your blood volume. It takes time for your body to replenish what you gave. The wait times between donations vary. You can give:

  • Whole blood. Every 56 days.
  • Double red cells. This takes twice as many red blood cells as regular donation. You must be type O, A negative, or B negative. You can give every 112 days, up to 3 times a year.
  • Plasma. It regenerates every couple of days. You can give plasma every 28 days, up to 13 times a year.
  • Platelets. Every 7 days, up to 24 times a year.
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Where Can I Donate?

Many nonprofit groups collect blood. Your employer may hold blood drives. You also can donate at mobile blood banks. Look for accredited blood banks on the website of the AABB or search for your local American Red Cross. Some blood banks will pay for plasma or platelet donations, but not for blood.