It’s hard to overstate the importance of blood in our bodies. Blood delivers oxygen to every part of our body, helps us fight infection and disease, and quite literally keeps us alive. Without proper blood flow and circulation, we cannot survive. That’s why donating blood is such an important activity. For those who have lost a lot of blood due to injury or whose blood is not healthy, transfusions of new blood are needed, because our bodies often cannot make new blood at the rate that we lose it when we are injured or unwell. Blood donation is one of the simplest, cheapest, and quickest ways that you can help a lot of sick people at once.
Types of Blood Donation
There are a few different ways to give blood because there are several different components that make up our blood:
- Red blood cells deliver oxygen throughout our bodies
- White blood cells help fight disease and infection
- Platelets are pieces of blood cells that help with clotting when we sustain injuries
- Plasma is the liquid that our blood cells travel within
While white blood cells aren’t often donated unless patients with specific health needs require them, red blood cells, platelets, and plasma are all common to donate. You can choose to give all of these parts at once (also known as whole blood donation) or just give some of it. Special machines are able to remove the different parts and even return them to your blood during your donation. Blood donors also typically only give a pint of blood at a time, since giving more than that in one sitting is unhealthy for the donor. Staff at blood drives can help walk you through what kind of donation you’ll be helping with when you arrive, and many blood drives specify this information prior to sign-up.
Additionally, there are eight different blood types that an individual can have, some common and others rare. Depending on your blood type, you may be able to give blood to anyone, or your blood may only be able to be given to someone who has the same blood type as you. The different blood types are A+, A-, B+, B-, O+, O-, AB+, and AB-.
Eligibility to Give Blood
While many people can give blood, not everyone is eligible. Eligibility criteria for giving blood are as follows:
- You must be at least 17 years of age (some states allow people to give at age 16 with parental consent)
- You must weigh at least 110 pounds
- You must be in good physical health
- You must be able to provide accurate personal information about your medical history and any current or past medications that you take
- You must wait at least 8 weeks between whole blood donations and at least 16 weeks between double red blood cell donation (this allows your body time to recover)
- You must wait at least 7 days between platelet donations, up to 24 times a year
In addition to these requirements, you will undergo a brief examination prior to giving blood so that those who are taking your blood will know your current status. Some organizations will keep your information on file so you can move through the process more quickly.
How to Prepare to Give Blood
Prior to giving blood, you should prepare in a few ways:
- Ensure that you’re hydrated by drinking at least 16 ounces of water beforehand
- Eat a healthy, low-fat meal before donating
- Wear a short-sleeved shirt or a shirt with sleeves that are easy to roll up and keep in place
- Have knowledge of any current medical conditions ready to explain to your pre-donation examiner
- (Optional) Arrange a ride to and from a blood donation center so you don’t have to worry about feeling well enough to drive before or afterward.
New blood donors are often nervous about their first time giving blood because they aren’t sure what to expect. This is completely normal. Blood donation workers are aware of this and are prepared to do whatever is necessary to keep you healthy and comfortable. When it’s time to have your blood taken, you’ll be ushered to a chair or an adjustable bed. A blood donation worker will ask you which arm you prefer to have blood taken from, and will disinfect the spot where they intend to take it from. They will then insert a sterile needle into your arm and secure it so it won’t fall out or slip out. You may also be given a squash ball to manipulate with the hand of your chosen arm so you can maintain your circulation.
During blood donation, you may choose whether to stay seated upright or lie down, depending on which helps you feel the most comfortable. If you feel light-headed, nauseous, or like you may pass out, tell someone immediately so they can prevent that from happening and help you in any other way you need. The blood donation process usually takes eight to ten minutes.
What to Expect After Blood Donation
Once you have given your pint of blood, you will be offered a drink or snack to help your blood sugar stay consistent and to help you begin the recovery process. Blood donation workers will allow you to stay seated or lying down as long as it takes for you to feel well enough to stand. If you stand and immediately feel nauseated or lightheaded, sit back down again immediately and continue eating or drinking whatever food has been offered to you.
Where You Can Donate
While the American Red Cross is the biggest name in blood donation in the U.S., there are other organizations that also run blood drives that you can donate to, including:
In addition to these organizations, there may also be local donation organizations near you that you can research (such as Octapharma Plasma on Fort Avenue). Many of these organizations are currently also testing blood for COVID-19 antibodies so you can find out if your body has developed a resistance to it. Blood donation events are common in many places, often taking place in churches or at nonprofit centers, and may be part of charity events. You can always check when and where you can give your next donation in the Lynchburg area at the blood donation sites listed above.
COVID-19 and Blood Donation
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and heightened numbers of patients in hospitals, the need for blood is at an all-time high. If you’re able to give blood, we encourage you to do so whenever you can. Your blood donation will help save lives.