What you don’t know about blood donation...

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I started working in blood transfusion services about 9 years ago, and the first place I worked at is the Donor Care Department. My job was to lead a group of medical professionals and manage a blood donation campaign in both scientific and managerial way in order to get our target of blood units and return back to the blood transfusion center as soon as possible. It seemed like an easy job for me, but it turned out to be a very demanding and interesting job because of what I've learned while leading these campaigns.

Why should people donate blood?

You should donate blood simply because there is no other synthetic alternative to red blood cells or platelets. There are now some alternatives to plasma and some blood clotting factors, but still, they are very expensive, so patients prefer to use the cheaper blood product which is plasma. According to the American Red Cross, every 2 seconds, somebody in the US needs blood. More than 44,000 units of blood are needed every day in the US, and although it is country with comprehensive health education, it barely fulfills its need of blood with an annual blood donations of 16 million blood units, a fact that is far from true in other less developed countries in Asia and Africa. So, until someone is able to make blood, we all have the responsibility to donate blood to help all the patients who need it.

Who needs blood ?

Basically any patient can be in dire need for blood or any of its components according to the disease he/she has. Just to point out few examples, trauma patients who lost a lot of blood in accidents or in surgeries will benefit a lot if they are given plasma to stop their bleeding, or red blood cells to raise their hemoglobin levels. Liver patients need a lot of plasma transfusions to compensate for the inability of their liver to make albumin, a major constituent of plasma. A single patient who is scheduled for open heart surgery in a developing country may need huge blood requirements. He may need an average of 6 units of packed red blood cells (PRBC), 12 units of Cryoprecipitate (pooled factor eight of plasma), 12 units of platelets to be there by the time he/she enters into the Operating Room. The list goes on, so blood donation really saves lives.

Is it safe for you to donate blood?

The World Health Organization (WHO) sets standards for blood donation in every country according to its economy and status of development. Usually you can donate more frequently when the socioeconomic status of your country is higher because it reflects your nutritional status. For example, in Egypt, a man can donate every 3 months, whereas it is only 56 days in the US. Your body contains about 6 litres of blood, and the amount that you donate ( 450 ml ) is compensated for as early as you're leaving the blood drive premise. The water content is usually returned in a few hours, platelets take 2-3 days, while the red blood cells take about 2-3 months to be fully re-made by the body. Women can donate less frequently than men because of the amount of blood lost naturally from them every month with their periods.

Are you afraid of needles?

Needles for blood donation are a little bit larger than the usual needles used with syringes or IV infusion sets, to ensure a free flow of blood from the veins of the donor to the blood bag. If it were any narrower, there would be more more chances of the blood being clotted inside the tubes and we would lose a very dear therapeutic potential to the patient. Just think that by your blood donation, you will be saving at least 3 patients, and you'll forget all about the needle size and pain. After all the pain will be only for a second when the nurse introduces the needle to your vein. After that, just sit and enjoy. I must tell you also that only afraid blood donors have bad blood donation experience. If you are not afraid, you'll be just fine.

After all this effort in convincing you to donate your blood, and showing you that we need your blood very much, sometimes we can't allow you to donate blood for the following reasons:

1- You don't have an ID: The WHO and most respected blood transfusion authorities recommend that blood donors have an ID. An ID verifies that you are responsible to take the decision of blood donation. It verifies your age for the health professionals within the blood drive. Usually you have to be above the age where you are permitted to have a driver's license in order to be eligible to donate your blood.

2- If you have donated blood within less than the required interval for your country.

3- If you had done any dental procedure within less than 6 months. That goes the same for extractions, fillings, nerve treatments. A person may do those procedures at a very reputable dental clinic, and is very confident with the sterilization of the equipment at that clinic, but the blood transfusion physician has to be extra cautious for fear of what is known as the "window period". At a much less caring environment with less infection control measures, any infectious agent ( virus, bacteria, etc...) may be transmitted with the dentists tools and enter into the blood stream. The "window period" is the period between the entry of the infectious agent into the blood stream and its appearance in screening tests for blood. If we ignore that window period, we may be taking blood filled with micro-organisms that we can't identify simply because they haven't shown up yet using the screening tests.

I guess I underestimated the size of information that you as a blood donor need to know about donation, so I may add another article next time to talk about other issues that we need to take care of before donating our blood. So see you next week.


(1). http://www.pharmainfo.net/blood-transfusion

(2). http://www.redcrossblood.org/learn-about-blood/blood-facts-and-statistics

(3). http://www.who.int/features/qa/61/en/index.html

(4). http://www.blood.co.uk/giving-blood/

(5). http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/topics/testing/resources/qa/index.htm

About the Author

Dr Amr Ebied's picture
Author: Dr Amr Ebied

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