January is Blood Donor Month: Never Donated? Here’s What to Know!
Why Give Blood?
January is National Blood Donor Month and donating is more important than ever. Hospitals are struggling to find the blood they need. Many only have enough blood for a few days, which means that patients might not be able to receive the blood and platelet transfusions they need. You can check the current national blood supply on the America’s Blood Centers website.
Unfortunately, despite the enormous and pressing need for blood donations, most people don’t give blood. 38% of the American population is eligible to give blood. But only 2% actually donates.
A study conducted by the National Blood Foundation discovered that people give blood because:
- They want to help others.
- It makes them feel good about themselves.
- It supports their local communities and hospitals.
- It “pays back” society for the times when they’ve needed blood transfusions in the past.
There are many reasons to donate blood. Giving blood is an easy, fast, and (mostly) painless way to help people who desperately need it.
What Happens to Donated Blood?
Hospitals use donated blood to help patients who need it. For instance, people with cancer might need blood as they undergo chemotherapy. People who are in car accidents commonly need blood. And patients with diseases like sickle cell can also require blood transfusions.
There are any number of medical situations that could require someone to need blood. You might even need a blood transfusion one day yourself.
Where to Find Blood Drives
There are multiple organizations that hold blood drives, including the Red Cross. Here are a few options that are available nationwide:
Association for the Advancement of Blood & Biotherapies — Use the AABB’s online tool to find donation sites near you.
— Vitalant collects blood and blood products nationwide.
Your community — Use county- or city-specific social networking sites or ask around to find local blood drives. Your healthcare provider or community center may be able to point you in the right direction.
In addition to national organizations like the Red Cross, you may be able to find nonprofits that serve specific regions.
Requirements for Giving Blood
Not everyone is eligible to give blood. If you’d like to donate blood, you must:
- Be in good health and not be sick on the day of donation
- Weigh at least 110 lbs.
- Be at least 16 years old (although this can vary depending on the state)
You should wait three days before donating if you have received the COVID-19 vaccine. There are also certain medication restrictions and considerations based on your medical history and considerations based on your travel out of the country.
Tips for Donating Blood
Once you know you’re eligible for donating blood and you have scheduled an appointment, follow these tips to set yourself up for success.
Make sure you do not feel sick on the day of your appointment. You should drink lots of water before you go. This will make it easier for the phlebotomist (the medical professional who draws your blood) to find a vein. It’s also a smart idea to eat a meal to help your body bounce back after giving blood. And don’t smoke or drink.
Check-in and During
Make sure to wear a face mask to the facility where you’ll be donating blood. Staff will also be wearing face masks to help protect everyone from the spread of COVID-19. You should bring your current photo ID, too. And it’s easiest to wear a short-sleeved shirt so the phlebotomist can easily access your arms.
You should be prepared to fill out a questionnaire that asks about your medical history. You also will probably have your blood pressure taken and a finger prick to make sure your iron levels are sufficient. Once you’re good to go, donating blood typically takes only about 10-15 minutes. You will be laying down or slightly reclined back in a reclining chair and you can just relax. Often there will be music playing and if you don’t like the site of blood you don’t need to see anything! You can donate blood every 56 days. If you donate platelets (cells that help with blood clotting), this will take 90 minutes and can be done every seven days, while donating plasma will take 40 minutes and can be done every 28 days.
When your donation is over, you might feel a little tired or dizzy. The staff will have you sit for about 15 minutes for observation and offer light snacks and juice and drinks to make sure you’re feeling good. After that you’re good to go and can drive yourself home. Your body will replace the fluid and blood you’ve lost over the next hours so take it easy that day in particular. Speak up if you feel ill before you leave the donation center.
Focus on staying hydrated to help your body replenish that fluid. You can put a cold pack on your arm where the needle went in if you develop a bruise. Talk to your healthcare provider if you get sick with symptoms such as a fever within a few days after your donation
What If I Can’t Donate Blood?
If you are not eligible to donate blood, consider helping out with this cause in a different way. Many blood drives are looking for volunteers. You could even organize your own blood drive in partnership with an established organization. Or simply ask your family and friends to give blood if they’re able.
What If I’m Nervous?
Some people feel nervous about donating blood which is completely normal. Maybe the thought of the needle or of the blood itself makes you uncomfortable. If you feel nervous, that’s okay! These fears are natural.
Ask a family or friend if they’ll come to the blood drive with you. Having a familiar face can help keep you calm (and distracted, if necessary).
You can ask the blood drive staff about any questions or concerns you have. They’ll be more than happy to answer your questions. It might also be helpful to find someone you know who has donated blood in the past so they can explain how the process works.
As mentioned above, you do not need to watch the donation happen or see any blood, just lie back and relax and let the staff do the work.
Finally, continue reminding yourself of how important and valuable blood donors are. At the end of the day, you’re doing this to help someone else—potentially even saving their life—and that makes it all worth it.
What should you not do before giving blood?
You should not smoke or drink alcohol before giving blood. Make sure you’re hydrated, nourished, and feeling well — you can’t donate blood if you’re sick.
How long does it take to recover from giving blood?
You might feel a little tired or dizzy after donating blood, but you should still be able to drive yourself home. Your body will replace the fluid and blood you’ve lost over the next few days and weeks.
What happens if you give blood on an empty stomach?
If you give blood on an empty stomach, you might experience low blood pressure which could cause dizziness or other symptoms. Eat a meal before you go and consider focusing on iron-rich foods like red meat, beans and dark green leafy vegetables. Donating blood means you’re losing iron.
Giving blood is an easy way to help people who need it and with the current blood shortage, it’s more important than ever. To get started, find a blood drive location near you.
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