According to the American Red Cross, someone in the United States needs blood every two seconds. Donated blood is used to help patients survive surgeries, cancer treatment, chronic diseases and traumatic injuries.
Donating blood is a simple, yet important action you can take to make a difference in the lives of others.
One donation can save up to three lives, but most Americans have never donated blood and many parts of the country are facing shortages. Now is a good time to step up and make a difference through blood donation. Check out the reasons why it’s so important, how it can benefit you and what the process is if you decide to donate.
Why It Matters
Donating blood is a simple, yet important action you can take to make a difference in the lives of others. Here are some reasons why it matters:
- The need for blood is constant. According to the American Red Cross, only 3% of age-eligible people donate blood, but the demand never stops. In the past few years, with the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on blood drives, the American Red Cross has faced its worst blood shortage in a decade. Blood donors are needed more than ever to get back to pre-pandemic levels.
- You can save lives. Here’s how your blood donation can help:
- Cancer patients use blood transfusions to infuse platelets back into their bodies after heavy treatments like chemo and radiation.
- Blood transfusions are given to patients after serious injuries like a car crash, surgeries, childbirth and more.
- Patients who suffer from an iron deficiency or anemia may receive red blood cells to increase their hemoglobin and iron levels.
- Patients with sickle cell disease can require multiple blood transfusions every year.
- It’s important to have diversity within the blood supply. Your blood type may be rare and helpful. You’ll learn more about your blood type when you donate.
Why It’s Good for You
Even though most people who donate blood are thinking of the lives they’ll save in the process, there are some benefits you get as the donor too:
- You get a free health screening. Before you’re allowed to donate, they’ll check your vital signs, which may alert you to high blood pressure or a heart arrhythmia. You’ll also be screened for infectious diseases and find out your blood type. This information may be useful if you ever face surgery or need a transfusion of your own.
- Regular blood donation is linked to lower blood pressure and a lower risk for heart attacks. Blood donation can help lower the viscosity of the blood, which is associated with the formation of blood clots.
- It feels good to help others. One donation can save up to three lives and doing a good deed can help you feel good about yourself and boost your overall well-being. You may feel more connected to your community and others around you.
- You can treat yourself to a 500-calorie snack. It takes your body about 500 calories to replace your blood donation. The donation center often provides juice and cookies to celebrate your donation, but you can decide for yourself what treat will serve as the perfect reward.
Tips for Blood Donors
Whole blood donations include all the contents within the blood including red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets and plasma. You can also do a platelet donation and a plasma donation, both of which look a little different than a typical blood donation.
Here are some general tips to consider before giving blood. These may be particularly helpful to first-time donors or those who feel somewhat anxious about the process:
- Learn about the donation process. The American Red Cross offers a detailed explanation of the donation process. Knowing what to expect can help you combat nerves or fear. Here’s a general idea of what happens:
- Brief health history and checkup (temperature, pulse, blood pressure and hemoglobin levels)
- Your donation
- Refreshment and recovery
- Eat well and hydrate before your donation. This is important the night before your donation and the day of your appointment. The American Red Cross suggests eating a healthy meal and drinking an extra 16 ounces of water before you go to the donation center. The extra water makes your veins easier to spot and the food and drink reduce the chances that you’ll feel faint during donation.
- Dress comfortably. Wear a shirt that can be rolled up above your elbow easily. You should plan to be at the donation center for about an hour, so being comfortable is important.
- Try to relax. The actual donation process only takes 8-10 minutes, but if you’re feeling anxious, bring something along to help you relax. Listen to some calming music, let the staff know if you’re fearful of needles, chat with others or bring a book or something else to distract you while you wait.
- Remember why you’re donating. Your one donation can save up to three lives and you’ve got plenty of blood to give (your body won’t miss it).
Who Can Donate
You may wonder if you’re eligible to donate blood because of a certain health concern or your age or for some other reason. Here are the general guidelines from the American Red Cross:
- Be in good general health and feeling well
- Be at least 17 years old in most states
- Weigh at least 110 pounds
- Have not donated blood in the last 56 days
In addition, donating blood is safe if you’ve had the COVID-19 vaccine. It’s also safe if you’ve had COVID-19. You just must be symptom-free for two weeks and without a positive test in the last 14 days. There are also new guidelines that may apply to some Veterans who have lived or were stationed overseas. In 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration updated its deferral for a variant related to mad cow disease, making those who spent long periods of time in certain European countries now eligible to donate. Learn more about the American Red Cross’s travel restrictions.
Get Yourself Scheduled
It’s easy to do. The American Red Cross helps you find a place to donate based on your ZIP code. In the past, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has done facility-based blood drives as well. Contact your local VA to see if any events are scheduled in your area.
The American Red Cross has a ton of specific information about donations, including a page on common concerns about donation, tips for first-time donors, different types of blood donation and much more.
The National Blood, Heart and Lung Institute offers factsheets and additional resources about the importance of blood donation.
Now that you know how important and easy the blood donation process is, find a location near you and sign up!