Save A Life—Donate Blood
Our expert answers all your questions regarding your role as a donor, the safe way to donate blood and the process of blood donation.
World Blood Donor Day, June 14, is one of the 11 official global public health campaigns marked by the World Health Organization (WHO). Karl Landsteiner, the Austrian scientist who discovered blood groups in 1901, was born on this day. The goal of Blood Donor Day is to bring awareness about the merits of blood donation, and to thank donors. The theme this year is Give Blood and Keep the World Beating.
Dr Sudha Ranganathan, consultant and head, Transfusion Medicine, Apollo Hospitals, Hyderabad shares her insights on what you need to know about blood donation.
Is blood donation safe?
Blood donation is safe. Before you can donate blood, doctors review your basic medical history, and perform a haemoglobin and a blood pressure checkup. Only if you are deemed medically fit, you can donate blood. An adult has 5 litres of blood, out of which you will be donating 450 ml. It takes about 48 hours to replenish the lost blood volume and for red blood cell mass it takes about 2 months.
“Standard precautions are taken by all blood banks to make the blood donor feel comfortable. This includes having a sterile atmosphere, usage of sterile bags, (different bags for different people) a good ambience at the donation centre and comfortable couches for donors. And, since we are in the COVID pandemic, we take extra precautions by using sanitisers,” says Dr Ranganathan.
A donor has to be between 18-60 years, their hemoglobin levels should be 12.5 gms, weight above 55 kgs and they should not be on antibiotics.
Those who are suffering from a recent infection, cardiac disease or cancer cannot donate blood. The blood bank doctor would decide whether they can donate or not based on several other criteria.
There are temporary and permanent deferral for blood donation. Temporary deferrals include mild viral infection, pregnancy and lactation, use of antibiotics and recent surgeries. Permanent deferrals include Human Immunodefficiency Virus (HIV), Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) or hepatitis B infection, cancer, heart disease or major surgery.
The process of blood donation
You can donate in any standard blood bank. The donor has to first register themselves at the blood bank, fill up a questionnaire about his past and present medical history including history of jaundice, malaria and typhoid. They should undergo a basic medical exam including haemoglobin, blood pressure and weight. Donors are made to fill a form to share medical history. All questions asked are intended to keep the blood donor and the patient who receives the blood safe.
Blood donation takes approximately 10 minutes. The donor will then be kept under observation for another 15 minutes. If there are no signs of weakness, the donor can go home.
The American Red Cross society takes us through the standard blood donation process below:
- At the blood bank, the registration staff will sign you in and take you through basic eligibility.
- You’ll have to provide an ID proof such as your driver’s license.
- You’ll have to go through some information about donating blood.
- In a private conversation with the blood donation staff, you’ll be questioned about your health history and places you’ve traveled.
- You will have to provide information about any prescription and medications that you may be following.
- Then the staff will check your temperature, pulse, blood pressure and hemoglobin level.
- If you’re donating whole blood, the staff will cleanse the area on your arm and insert a new sterile needle for extraction.
- During the process, you’ll be seated comfortably or lying down.
- When a pint of whole blood has been collected, the donation is complete and a staff person will place a bandage on your arm.
- Other types of donations, such as platelets, will be collected using an apheresis machine which is connected to both your arms.
- For platelets, the apheresis machine will collect a small amount of blood, remove the platelets, and send the rest of your blood through your other arm. This process is repeated several times over about 2 hours.
Refreshment and Recovery
- After donating blood, you’ll be provided with a snack and something to drink in the refreshment area. Generally, you can have any fluids, for example, juices. They help us to replace loss of body fluids due to blood donation.
- You can leave after 10-15 minutes.
Are there any benefits to donating blood?
New blood cells form in your body after donating blood. The NHS UK Blood and Transplant institute explains: “When you donate blood, you lose red blood cells (RBCs) and the body is tasked with creating new ones. The peritubular cells in the kidneys detect decreased oxygen levels in the blood and release a protein called ‘erythropoietin’. This is then transferred through the bloodstream to the bone marrow, which produces stem cells—the body’s building blocks to create different blood cells. The erythropoietin signals to the stem cells to create more RBCs.”
“One does feel happy that they have saved three lives because one unit of blood is separated into three blood components which are packed red blood cells, plasma and platelets and can be given to three different patients,” says Dr. Ranganathan.
Are there any side effects to donating blood?
Very rarely do people have giddiness after or during blood donation. It is particularly common in people who are anxious, or those who are not well rested. But the staff at the blood banks is always available to ensure a smooth blood donation process.
Can you donate blood if you have a tattoo?
You can donate blood only after six months from the day you get a tattoo.
What to know before you donate blood
What to eat or drink before donating blood?
You can have normal food at least an hour before blood donation but you need to avoid alcohol 24 hours before donation and smoking 2 hours before. People with diabetes or those on sleeping pills or birth control pills, can follow a normal diet along with increased intake of fluids.
What to expect after blood donation
What are the red flags?
Some red flags are dizziness and swelling at the site of the needle insertion. Speak to the staff at the centre if you experience uneasiness.
What to do and eat or drink after donating blood?
People can have normal food but specially iron rich food (to compensate for lost blood), plenty of fluids, get adequate rest and avoid indulging in strenuous activities like swimming and weightlifting. They increase pressure on the venipuncture site—where the needle is injected and cause bleeding, bruising or soreness.
Safe blood donation during COVID-19
Can people who are vaccinated for COVID donate blood?
The vaccine does not impact blood donation except for the fact that you need to wait for 14 days after the first or second dose before you can donate.
Who can donate blood plasma for COVID-19 patients?
COVID plasma donations are taken from people who have had natural infection and not from people who have had only the vaccination. The neutralizing antibodies in the donor who has recovered from COVID infection help combat the infection in a patient.
What is the eligibility for plasma donation for COVID-19?
Plasmapheresis can be done for all conditions. However, for COVID plasma, the criteria includes:
an earlier diagnosis of COVID, a case report, recovery from symptoms of COVID; time gap of 28 days after recovery, high COVID IDG antibody levels, serum protein greater than 6 gms/dl. The person should be negative for conditions like HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C and should weigh more than 55 kgs. This will be followed by the standard blood donation criteria.