Donating blood is a safe, quick, and easy way to help doctors and nurses save lives. However, not everyone may be able to give blood.

Every 2 seconds, someone in the United States needs blood, but supplies are low due to COVID-19. To find out more about blood donation and how you can help, please visit our dedicated hub.

In this article, we discuss the criteria for different blood donations and explain whether medications, medical conditions, pregnancy, travel, tattoos, or weight may prevent people from donating.

A row of people who are eligible and can donate blood are seen doing so at a blood drive.Share on Pinterest
People who meet blood donation criteria can donate whole blood every 56 days (8 weeks).

According to the general blood donation criteria, donors must:

Who should not donate

People who might not be able to donate blood include those who:

  • have used needles to take drugs, steroids, or other substances that a doctor has not prescribed
  • have engaged in sex for money or drugs
  • test positive for certain conditions, such as HIV or Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD)
  • have taken certain medications
  • are male and have had sexual contact with other males in the past 3 months

Healthcare providers use four different blood products in transfusions: whole blood, power red, platelets, and AB elite plasma. The donation criteria vary slightly depending on the product.

Whole blood

Whole blood consists of red and white blood cells, platelets, and plasma. Blood banks process whole blood into their different components, as most people in need of a blood transfusion do not require them all.

To donate whole blood, people must:

  • be at least 16 years of age
  • not be ill
  • weigh at least 110 lb

People can donate whole blood every 56 days (8 weeks). This interval gives the body time to replenish lost blood.

Power red

People can donate power red by apheresis. This process takes out the necessary component from whole blood, sending the rest of the unneeded blood back into the donor’s body.

The National Institutes of Health Blood Bank have a process called Double Red Cell Apheresis (DRCA). DRCA allows blood bank workers to take two units of power red, the equivalent of two donations, in one sitting.

To donate power red, people must:

  • not be ill
  • if male, be at least 17 years old, be a minimum of 5 feet 1 inch tall, and weigh at least 130 lb
  • if female, be at least 19 years old, be a minimum of 5 feet 5 inches tall, and weigh at least 150 lb

People can donate power red every 112 days. They cannot donate more than three times a year.

Platelets

Platelets are cells in whole blood that help blood clot. The body produces platelets in bone marrow and stores them in the spleen.

When a person injures themselves, platelets form a protective barrier at the site of injury to stop the wound from bleeding. Platelet donors can undergo apheresis to extract the platelets from whole blood.

To donate platelets, people must:

  • not be ill
  • be 17 years or older
  • weigh at least 110 lb

People can donate platelets every 7 days. They cannot donate more than 24 times a year.

AB elite plasma

Plasma is a pale yellow liquid in whole blood. It helps fight infection and encourages blood to clot. AB plasma is a universal donor plasma because it is compatible with all blood types. Plasma donors can undergo apheresis to take out the plasma from whole blood.

To donate AB elite plasma, people must:

  • have type AB blood
  • not be ill
  • be at least 17 years old
  • weigh at least 110 lb

People can donate AB elite plasma every 28 days. They cannot donate more than 13 times a year.

Various other factors may also determine whether a person can donate blood. We look at some of these in more detail below.

Medications taken

Usually, medications do not disqualify donors from giving blood. Some conditions may make donors ineligible, but if the condition is under control, they may still be able to donate.

Homeopathic medicines, herbal remedies, and vitamin supplements are all fine to take. People on certain medications may have to wait for a set period after their last dose before donating blood. The table below describes the waiting period for different drugs.

DrugWaiting period
heart disease and stroke medication, such as clopidogrel (Plavix) and ticlopidine (Ticlid)no waiting period for whole blood, but 14 days from last dose before donating platelets by apheresis
aspirinno waiting period for whole blood, but 2 days from last dose before donating platelets by apheresis
prescription blood thinners, such as fondaparinux (Arixtra)2 days from last dose with permission from primary healthcare doctor
acne drugs, such as isotretinoin (Accutane and Amnesteem)1 month from last dose
thalidomide (Thalomid)1 month from last dose
mycophenolate mofetil (Cellcept)6 weeks from last dose
drugs for an enlarged prostate, such as dutasteride (Avodart) 6 months from last dose
hepatitis B immune globulin12 months after exposure to hepatitis
teriflunomide (Aubagio)2 years from last dose
arthritis medication, such as leflunomide (Arava) and vismodegib (Erivedge)2 years from last dose
acitretin (Soriatane)3 years after last dose
etretinate (Tegison)not eligible
human pituitary-derived growth hormonesnot eligible

Medical conditions

Certain medical conditions may prevent people from donating, either for a set period or permanently.

Medical conditionCan I donate?
allergies and dry coughYes, if there is no a fever and the person can breathe through their mouth.
asthmaYes, as long as there is no difficulty breathing at the time of donation.
bleeding conditionsNot if the blood does not clot properly. Otherwise, it depends on what medication a person is taking.
cancerNo, if the cancer is or was leukemia or lymphoma. Other types of cancer do not prevent people from donating if it has been more than 12 months since treatment.
CJDNo.
diabetesYes, if the condition is under control.
EbolaNo.
heart diseaseYes, if it has been at least 6 months since the last symptoms.
hepatitisYes, 12 months after potential hepatitis exposure.
HIV or AIDsNo.
sexually transmitted diseasesYes, 12 months after successful treatment for syphilis and gonorrhea, and immediately for others, including herpes if there are no open sores
sickle cellYes, if people only have the sickle cell trait. If a person has sickle cell, they cannot donate.
tuberculosisNot if the tuberculosis is active.
Zika virusYes, 120 days after symptoms resolve.

Pregnancy and breastfeeding

Pregnant women are not eligible to donate blood. Women who are breastfeeding can donate blood, as long as they wait 6 weeks after giving birth before donating.

Tattoos

If the tattoo artist and establishment are in a state that regulates tattoo facilities, there is no waiting time to donate blood. If not, a person will have to wait 3 months before donating blood.

A tattoo is acceptable if the tattoo artist uses sterile needles and new ink for each tattoo and works in a state-licensed establishment.

Click here to learn more about donating blood after getting a tattoo.

Traveling outside the United States

If a person has left the U.S. and is at risk of certain diseases, they will have to wait before donating blood.

Donors who have been to areas that are malarial risk areas cannot donate until a certain period has passed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that:

  • most people cannot donate for 1 year after they come back to the U.S.
  • people who lived in a malarial risk area cannot donate for 3 years
  • people who have malaria cannot donate until 3 years after treatment

People who are at risk of variant CJD, known as mad cow disease, are not eligible to donate blood. These individuals include people who were in the United Kingdom for 3 or more months between 1980 and 1996 and those who have lived in Western Europe for 5 or more years since 1980.

A person’s weight

There is no upper weight limit to donate blood, as long as a person can safely use the donor bed in the blood bank that they are visiting.

People must weigh at least 110 lb to be eligible to donate blood. People who weigh less than this may not be able to tolerate the removal of the required amount of blood.

COVID-19

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and potential blood shortages in the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have recommended changing the current guidelines. They have changed the deferral time from 12 months to 3 months for the following people:

  • males who have had sex with males (MSM)
  • females who have had sex with MSM
  • those who have had recent tattoos and piercings
  • those who have traveled to malaria-endemic areas

Additionally, a person who is at risk of having CJD or has a blood relative with the condition was previously not able to donate blood. However, the FDA now suggest that those who were previously not eligible to donate blood for this reason are now able to reapply.

Donating blood is a great way of saving people’s lives. The criteria for donating blood allow most of the population to donate regularly. Local blood banks have information on how many blood donors they need and how the process of donating works.