Each day, thousands of people need donated blood and blood products to keep them in good health or allow them to stay alive.
If a person’s blood levels fall due to an accident or illness, or if their blood is not functioning properly, there will not be enough oxygen or other nutrients to maintain their vital organs.
Donating whole blood can help these people.
A similar process to whole blood donation is apheresis. This provides other blood components, such as platelets. A donation of platelets can help people who have issues related to clotting. It may also provide antibodies to help fight a disease, such as COVID-19.
Giving blood can be a life saving action. How does it affect those who donate? In this article, learn about the advantages and disadvantages of giving blood.
Donating blood can help people with many health conditions, such as those who:
- have internal or external bleeding due to an injury
- have sickle cell disease or another illness that affects the blood
- are undergoing cancer treatment
- are undergoing surgery, such as cardiovascular or orthopedic surgery
- have an inherited blood disorder
- are undergoing a transplant
- need treatments involving plasma or other blood products
People who have recovered from COVID-19 may be able to help others with the disease by donating blood plasma, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Their plasma can contain antibodies to the infection. If another person receives this plasma, it may help their body fight the virus.
For many people, blood donation offers many health benefits with few risks. The strict regulation of blood banks means that a donor can give their blood or plasma safely in the United States.
Donated blood can save the lives of people in need. However, according to some medical professionals, it may also benefit the donor.
The sections below will look at some benefits for the donor in more detail.
Identifying adverse health effects
Each person who donates blood completes a simple physical examination and blood test before giving blood.
The test will check the person’s:
- blood pressure
- body temperature
- heart rate
- hemoglobin, or iron, levels
If the test reveals a problem, the person will not be able to donate blood. However, the results could be a first step toward seeking treatment.
Contributing to the community
Donating one unit of blood may save the lives of up to three people, according to the American Red Cross.
Blood donors provide a vital service to the community. Making a difference in the lives of others can boost a donor’s sense of well-being.
There are claims that giving blood burns 650 calories. However, there does not appear to be any scientific evidence to prove this. Any benefits of this calorie loss will be short-term and will not help a person lose weight.
However, a 2012 study suggests that because blood donation centers need to weigh people before they give blood, this could help identify people with obesity and offer them help to manage their weight and any related health problems.
It can also identify people with a low weight, who may also benefit from counseling and advice.
Reduces iron levels for those with hemochromatosis
The body needs iron to produce red blood cells. However, around 1 million people in the U.S. have type 1 hereditary hemochromatosis. People with this and other types of hemochromatosis have too much iron in their blood.
The excess iron can deposit into different organs of the body, such as the liver and heart, and affect the way those organs function.
According to a 2003 article by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with hemochromatosis can benefit from phlebotomy, which is a similar process to donating blood.
People with this condition are allowed to donate blood. In other words, for those with hemochromatosis, donating blood can be a treatment option as well as a way of helping others.
Not all agencies allow donations from people with this condition, but many use their blood in the general donation pool.
Donating blood is safe, as long as the center follows the standard guidelines.
The U.S. and many other countries have strict regulations to ensure safety. The FDA and American Association of Blood Banks (AABB) monitor blood banks for this purpose.
Safety precautions they take include:
- screening donors for existing health conditions
- using new needles for each donation
- having professional staff on hand
- providing monitoring and refreshments to ensure a safe recovery
However, there are some potential disadvantages of donating blood. The following sections will discuss these in more detail.
Sometimes, a person can experience side effects after donating blood.
Although severe adverse effects are rare, temporary reactions can occur, including:
- feeling faint
- bleeding from the needle prick
- bleeding under the skin or bruising
These symptoms usually disappear within 24 hours.
Some ways of minimizing these effects after donation include drinking plenty of fluids and eating well-balanced meals over the next 24–48 hours.
Foods that can boost a person’s iron intake include:
- red meat
- iron-fortified juices and cereals
In rare cases, a person may experience a more severe adverse effect, such as:
- low blood pressure
- muscle contractions
- breathing difficulty
These effects are more likely to affect younger donors, those with a low weight, and individuals who are donating for the first time.
Effect on sports performance
Some studies claim that donating blood can reduce athletic performance, due to its effect on iron levels and the cardiovascular and respiratory systems.
However, a 2019 review concludes that there is not enough evidence to confirm this.
The donation and collection of blood follow a strictly regulated process.
The person should try to get a good night’s sleep before donating blood. On arriving at the donation center, they will need to:
- register for donation
- complete a medical history
- undergo a mini physical exam
These steps help ensure that a person has not had exposure to diseases that could affect others through a blood donation.
To give blood in the U.S., a person must normally:
- be at least 17 years old
- weigh at least 110 pounds
- have good overall health
- provide two pieces of identification the first time they donate
They will also need to fill in a form.
During the donation
During the process of donating blood, a healthcare provider will:
- Clean the donor’s arm with an alcohol pad.
- Insert a new and sterile needle into a vein.
- Attach the needle to collection equipment, consisting of tubing and a bag.
- Allow the blood to flow into the bag until it is full.
The person will donate one unit of blood, and this will take 6–10 minutes. The whole process will take around 45–60 minutes.
After the donation
After the donation, a healthcare provider will apply pressure with cotton gauze and place a dressing over the donor’s arm.
The donor will usually need to wait for 10–15 minutes before leaving, during which time they will receive some refreshments.
If the needle prick is bleeding after donation, the donor should apply pressure and raise the arm for 3–5 minutes.
If there is bruising or bleeding under the skin, they can apply a cold pack intermittently for 24 hours, then alternate with warm packs.
Before donating blood or blood products, a person should ensure that they meet the requirements.
Some questions to consider include:
- How is their overall health?
- Do they have any existing health conditions, such as hepatitis or HIV?
- Do they meet the age and weight requirements?
- Have they recently traveled or had a tattoo?
- Do they use recreational drugs, especially intravenously?
- If they are donating platelets, have they taken aspirin within the last 48 hours?
- If they have diabetes, do they manage it with medication?
These and many other factors can affect a person’s ability to give blood.
It takes only 24 hours for the body to replenish its plasma, but it can take 4–6 weeks to replace the missing blood. For this reason, most people cannot donate more than once every 8 weeks.
According to the American Red Cross, someone in the U.S. needs blood every 2 seconds. Around 6.8 million people in the U.S. donate blood each year, but there are concerns that numbers are falling.
Donating blood can be a worthwhile and rewarding activity. It involves a low level of risk and may offer advantages to some people.
If a person wishes to donate blood, they can find their nearest center using the AABB’s Blood and Convalescent Plasma Donation Site Locator. They can find a donation drive through the American Red Cross.