A person can usually return to most daily activities within a few hours of donating blood. There are a few ways to help the body recover.
Certain foods and drinks, for example, can help with recovery from blood donation. Also, there are some activities to avoid immediately afterward.
In this article, we look at how long recovery takes, what to do after donating, what to avoid, possible adverse effects, and when to see a doctor.
During a standard donation a person donates whole blood. It contains red cells, white cells, platelets, and plasma.
After donating whole blood, a person often sits and relaxes for about 15 minutes. An attendant may offer water, juice, or snacks to help prevent or address any fatigue or dizziness.
When the person feels ready, they can return to most of their usual activities, often within a few hours.
The body makes around 2 million red blood cells every second. Still, it may take a few weeks to replace the pint of blood drawn during a donation. In the meantime, few people feel any effects of the lack of blood.
A person must wait at least 8 weeks between donations to ensure that their body has enough time to recover.
Donating blood lowers levels of key nutrients the body. By eating and drinking certain foods, a person can help their body recover.
The blood contains iron, and each donation may cause the body to lose 200–250 milligrams of the mineral.
Eating iron-rich foods can help replenish levels of the mineral in the blood. Foods that contain plenty of iron include:
- red meat
- spinach and leafy greens
- fortified cereals
Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron, so it is also a good idea to eat foods rich in the vitamin, such as citrus fruits, bell peppers, and tomatoes.
A person who donates blood frequently may benefit from an iron supplement.
- leafy greens
- dairy products
- fortified breakfast cereals
- orange juice
People with vegetarian or vegan diets may benefit from taking a B vitamin supplement if they find it difficult to get enough from their diet.
Donating blood removes fluids from the body. A person can help restore them by drinking water, broth, or herbal tea.
The American Red Cross recommend drinking an extra 4 glasses, or 32 ounces, of liquid in the first 24 hours after donating blood.
Donating blood usually does not affect a person’s daily routine. However, it can limit what a person can do immediately afterward.
The loss of red blood cells means that there is less oxygen circulating in the body. As a result, a person should avoid very strenuous activities right after a donation. This may include:
- manual labor
- heavy lifting
- cardio exercises
For the rest of the day after donating blood, it is generally a good idea to avoid any activities that get the heart rate up.
Going forward, a person can gradually reintroduce exercise and heavy lifting. Returning to these activities slowly can help prevent any adverse effects of the blood loss.
Also, a person should avoid drinking alcohol for the first 24 hours after a donation.
Dizziness or lightheadedness
Some people experience dizziness or lightheadedness after donating blood. This is because the lower volume of blood in the body leads to a temporary reduction in blood pressure.
Certain preventive measures may help, such as drinking extra water before donating.
Anyone experiencing dizziness or lightheadedness should stop what they are doing and sit or lie down. Take slow, deep breaths until the issue passes. Raising the feet may also help.
Resume activities slowly, and avoid any that could be dangerous due to a person feeling dizzy or off-balance.
After a blood donation is complete, an attendant will place a bandage over the area where the needle was inserted. They may also apply gentle pressure to help the blood clot and the wound heal.
If a person’s blood does not clot quickly, they may need to rest. To help prevent bleeding, keep the bandage on, and try to avoid using the arm wherever possible.
If there is bleeding from the site, apply pressure, and raise the arm over the head for about 5 minutes until the bleeding stops.
After the wound closes, remove the bandage and wash the area gently with soap and water. Do this regularly until the wound has fully healed.
Bruising and soreness
Some people experience bruising around the insertion site. This happens when the tissue beneath the skin continues to bleed slightly after the donation.
If the bruising causes discomfort, cold compresses can help. A person can also take over-the-counter pain medication, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol).
Anyone who plans to donate platelets should avoid taking aspirin for 2 days before the donation.
Slight fatigue is normal after a blood donation, and some people experience this more than others.
Anyone who feels tired after donating blood should rest until they feel better.
Drinking plenty of water and restoring vitamin and mineral levels may help reduce fatigue.
Usually, any adverse effects of donating blood are mild, if a person notices them at all.
Anyone who experiences persistent or severe effects should see a doctor. These include:
- continuing lightheadedness or fatigue
- bleeding that is difficult to control
- pain, tingling, or numbness in the arm
- sudden symptoms of a bacterial infection, such as a fever or swelling
Certain health issues can make a person’s blood unsafe to give to others. A person should contact the donation center if they develop any of the following:
- an acute fever, cough, or cold within 4 weeks of donating
- jaundice, hepatitis, tuberculosis, or malaria within 3 months of donating
Donating blood is a simple and effective way to help others.
A few hours after a donation, a person can usually resume most of their regular activities.
There are a few ways to help the body recover, such as:
- drinking plenty of hydrating fluids
- eating foods that contain iron and vitamins C and B
- avoiding strenuous activities, including cardio exercise, for at least a day
Severe adverse effects of donating blood are uncommon. However, anyone who has persistent or severe health issues after donating blood should contact a doctor or the donation center for advice.