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, people can donate blood if they have diabetes.
Although donating blood is possible, people with diabetes will need to consider several important things first, and they will need to monitor their recovery closely.
In this article, we look at how diabetes can affect blood donations and explain the procedure of donating blood.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with diabetes tend to have higher blood sugar levels than normal and often use insulin injections or oral diabetes medications to help balance them.
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, and the diabetes is under control.
In some cases, blood donation may actually improve markers of diabetes. A smaller study featuring in Clinical Biochemistry found that males who donated blood had improved glucose tolerance after 3 weeks.
People with diabetes will still need to meet other criteria for donating blood, such as:
- being in otherwise good health
- being over the age of 17, in most states
- weighing at least 110 pounds
- being free of symptoms of sickness, including illnesses such as a cold or the flu
Each individual can only donate blood every 56 days.
Additionally, some doctors will recommend a longer time between donations for people with diabetes.
A study in PLOS ONE 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 the symptoms that it causes may affect a person’s ability to donate blood. For example:
The American Red Cross note that people with diabetes are eligible to donate as long as the condition is well-controlled.
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 talk to a doctor about the desire to donate and work closely with them to bring their blood glucose into an acceptable range so that they can donate.
Another concern regarding people with diabetes who give blood is the source of their insulin. The NIH state that if anyone has used insulin derived from beef, they are not eligible to donate blood.
This restriction appears to be due to concerns over variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), as according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there may be a chance to pass markers of the disease through blood transfusions.
This type of insulin is not in circulation anymore, as the practice was discontinued in 1998.
Although most other medications for diabetes will not prevent a person from giving blood, it is still helpful to bring a list of any current medications to present to the attendant.
It is important to note that these are the guidelines in the United States. The requirements can vary and may be different in other countries, such as Canada and the United Kingdom.
Diabetes results in altered levels of blood sugar due to the body 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, which is the compound that helps balance sugar in the blood. As a result, they must rely on insulin injections to get this insulin.
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 blood.
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 process for someone with diabetes to donate blood is much 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 should this be necessary.
Before the procedure
Before the donation, the 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 the person questions about their physical health and medical history. They will also ask about any recent travel.
After this mini 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 much the same. 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 is over, 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 give them 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 lost due to blood donation.
People with diabetes can have difficulty controlling their blood sugar and must often rely on insulin to balance the 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 pay special attention to their blood sugar levels during recovery, and they may need to make changes in insulin levels as they recover.