This article was updated on January 25th, 2021.
Although 38% of the American population is eligible to give blood, only 2% actually donates, according to the Cedars Sinai. Nevertheless, since the first volunteer blood donor service opened in 1921, there has been a constant effort to reach out for more blood donors.
Here are some of the reasons why there is a demand for blood: a) there is no substitute for human blood; b) new life-saving treatments require blood products; c) blood products cannot be stored indefinitely; d) 40 or more units of blood may be needed for a single trauma victim; e) 8 units of platelets may be required daily for leukemia patients undergoing treatments; f) a pint of blood can sustain a premature infant’s life for two weeks.
In 2020, and due to the increase of COVID-19 cases nationwide, there was a severe blood shortage prompted by the cancelation of over 2,500 Red Cross blood drives. This resulted in 85,000 fewer blood donations and driven the need to test blood, platelets, and plasma donation to determine if recovered patients could produce antibodies to fight the virus. “The antibodies may help patients actively fighting the virus and plasma is still very much needed while the vaccine is becoming more readily available,” says the Here to Serve website.
Blood donation is a volunteer procedure in which you agree to have blood drawn so that it can be given to someone who needs it, said the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota. With that in mind, learn how to save a life this National Blood Donor Month.
These are the types of blood donations:
- Whole blood. This is the most common type of donation, during which about a pint of blood is donated. It is then separated into its components: red cells, plasma, and platelets. Note that plasma from whole blood donations that test positive for COVID-19 antibodies may be used to help COVID-19 patients. You can make an appointment to give blood by downloading the free Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org, or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).
- This blood is obtained with a process called apheresis, in which the donor is hooked up with a machine that collects the platelets, some of the plasma, and then returns the rest of the blood to the donor.
- This can be collected simultaneously with a platelet donation, or it may be collected without collecting platelets during an apheresis donation.
- Double red cells. This collection is also done using apheresis, although only the red cells are collected.
“Blood donating is safe because new, sterile disposable equipment is used for each donor, so there is no risk in contracting a blood-borne infection,” the Clinic added.
You are eligible to donate blood if you are in good health, and weigh at least 110 pounds, according to the University of California at San Francisco Medical Center. Here are other guidelines.
- You must be at least 17 years of age. There is no upper limit as long as you are healthy.
- High Blood Pressure. You are eligible as long as your systolic reading (upper number) is below 180, and the diastolic (lower number) is below 100 at the time of donation. Blood pressure medications do not disqualify you.
- Body Piercing. You should not donate if you have had a tongue, nose, belly button, or genital piercing within the last 12 months. Those with pierced ears can donate.
- Colds and Flu. If you have a fever, cough, etc., wait until you feel better before donating.
- This is acceptable as long as the disease is under control, whether you are taking medications or not.
- A meal is recommended at least four hours prior to a donation. Drink plenty of water.
- Men who have sex with men since 1977 are not eligible. That is the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. This group is at an increased risk of HIV, hepatitis B, and other infections.
- One-year deferral.
- Check with the UCSF Blood Center at 415-353-1809. Recent travel to a restricted area might be a problem.
- You must weigh at least 110 pounds, because those weighing less may not tolerate the removal of the required amount of blood.
For those who have a fear of needles, the New York Blood Bank reports that the needle insertion feels like a little pinch. Other than that, most donors feel no discomfort.
There are health benefits for donating blood, reported J. P. Mascaro & Sons, Audubon, Pennsylvania.
- You have the joy of saving lives.
- A free health check-up. Before a donation, tests can detect any blood pressure abnormalities or an iron deficiency. Potential problems can be uncovered when the blood is processed.
- Reduced risk of a heart attack. Regular donations keep iron levels in check, especially in males. High iron stores can thicken blood, which accelerates the oxidative process. Blood inconsistency increases wear and tear on the lining of the arteries and contribute to cardiovascular disease.
- Burns calories. A donation helps you shed 650 calories.
- Reduced risk of cancer. High levels of iron have been implicated in some forms of cancer, because the mineral may increase harmful free radicals in the body.