Diabetes can make it difficult for a person to control their blood sugar levels, which are often too high. People with this condition may need to use external sources of insulin to correct these levels. However, individuals with diabetes can still donate blood as long as they can keep their blood sugar under control.

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Although donating blood is possible, people with diabetes will need to first consider several important factors and monitor their recovery closely afterward.

In this article, we look at how diabetes can affect blood donations and explain the procedure of donating blood.

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for maintaining the safety of up to 11 million units of whole blood donations annually.

According to the FDA, a person with typical levels of hemoglobin can donate blood. This means those who can control their diabetes by balancing their blood sugar levels with suitable treatments, such as insulin injections or oral diabetes medications, are eligible to donate.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) say that having diabetes should not affect a person’s ability to donate blood as long as they are feeling well. Additionally, people with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can donate blood if their diabetes is under control.

However, other countries may have different standards regarding blood donation for diabetes. For example, according to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), people living with the condition who take insulin should not donate blood.

In the U.S., individuals with diabetes still need to meet other criteria for donating blood, such as:

  • being in otherwise good health
  • being over the age of 17 years in most states
  • weighing at least 110 pounds
  • being free from symptoms of sickness, including illnesses such as a cold or the flu

While individuals can only donate blood every 56 days, some doctors will recommend a longer interval between donations for those with diabetes.

Another 2017 study notes that blood donation may affect hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) levels in a person with diabetes for at least 2 months after a whole blood donation.

Therefore, the authors recommend that people with type 2 diabetes wait at least 4 months between donations.

In some cases, diabetes and its symptoms may affect a person’s ability to donate blood. These symptoms include the below.

Uncontrolled sugars

The American Red Cross notes that people with diabetes are eligible to donate as long as they can keep their condition under control.

If a person is having difficulty controlling their blood sugar or keeping it within an acceptable range, they should not donate right away.

Instead, they can speak with a doctor about their desire to donate and work closely with them to bring their blood glucose within acceptable ranges.

Bovine insulin

Another concern regarding people with diabetes who give blood is the source of their insulin. The NIH states that if anyone has used insulin that derives from beef, they are not eligible to donate blood.

This restriction appears to be due to concerns over variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, as there may be a chance to pass markers of the disease through blood transfusions, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

However, this type of insulin is not in circulation anymore, as healthcare professionals discontinued this practice in 1998.

Although most other diabetes medications will not prevent a person from giving blood, it is still helpful to bring a list of any current medications to show the healthcare professional taking the blood.

It is also important to note that these are United States guidelines. The requirements may differ in other countries, such as Canada and the U.K.

Diabetes results in altered levels of blood sugar because the body is not making or utilizing insulin as well as it should.

According to the CDC, in people with type 1 diabetes, the body makes no or very little insulin, the compound that helps balance sugar in the blood. As a result, they must rely on insulin injections.

People with type 2 diabetes have become resistant to this insulin, and they must rely on outside sources or other medications to help them control blood sugar levels.

In both cases, how well a person manages the condition will be the only factor affecting whether they can donate blood. People with either form of diabetes who manage their blood sugar well should have no problem donating.

Anyone with diabetes will need to monitor their blood sugar levels closely ahead of donating blood to ensure that they are within the acceptable range on the day of the procedure.

The blood donation process for someone with diabetes is largely the same as it is for any other blood donor. However, a person should bring any equipment necessary to monitor and adjust their blood sugar levels if necessary.

Before the procedure

Before the donation, a person will need to fill out some paperwork, including the required information to register as a donor. They will also need valid forms of identification, such as a driver’s license or passport.

The attendant will ask some questions about an individual’s physical health and medical history. They will also ask about any recent travel.

The attendant will then take the person’s basic vitals, such as pulse, blood pressure, and temperature.

After this short checkup, the donation procedure begins.

During the procedure

The blood donation procedure itself is relatively simple. The attendant cleans an area, generally on the person’s arm, where the veins are easy to see. They will then insert a needle into the vein to begin drawing blood.

For whole blood donations, the blood draws into a bag. The process takes roughly 8–10 minutes for a unit of blood, which is about 1 pint.

Donating other blood products via processes, such as apheresis, may take up to 2 hours, but the process is similar. Instead of drawing into a bag, the blood draws into a machine that filters out the necessary product. The rest of the blood can then infuse back into the person’s body.

After the procedure

After the procedure, the attendant will cover the needle insertion area with a bandage.

They will ask the person to rest for about 15 minutes and may offer them simple snacks, juice, or water. People with diabetes may wish to bring their own snacks or drinks to have more control over what they consume.

After donating blood, it is important to monitor blood glucose levels regularly.

Anyone donating blood should care for themselves in the days that follow. This self-care includes drinking extra fluids to keep the body hydrated and consuming more iron- and mineral-rich foods to help replace the compounds they have lost from donating blood.

People with diabetes can have difficulty controlling their blood sugar and must often rely on insulin to balance their levels. Although diabetes and blood sugar levels may affect a person in other ways, if they can manage the condition well, it should not alter their ability to donate blood.

People with diabetes should also pay special attention to their blood sugar levels during recovery, and they may need to make changes in insulin levels as they recover.

Here are some common questions regarding donating blood while having diabetes.

What happens to blood sugar after donating blood?

In some cases, blood donation may improve markers of diabetes. A 2016 study found that males who donated blood had improved glucose tolerance after 3 weeks.

Can you donate blood if you take metformin?

Metformin (Fortamet, Glumetza) is an oral medication that helps control diabetes. As long as a person living with diabetes can control their diabetes with insulin or oral medications, they can donate blood.

Can a person living with diabetes donate blood plasma?

There are different types of blood donations. For example, a person can donate blood plasma, which contains proteins and antibodies crucial for clotting and immunity. Whether or not someone with diabetes is eligible to donate plasma depends on the donation facilities. An individual can check with their preferred facility, as they may also have additional, specific donation requirements.