If you can donate blood while you’re healthy, it can be a great experience and provide an opportunity to give back to your community and possibly save a life. Your own life could be saved one day by a generous blood donor. Donating blood is the greatest gift you can give all year long and here’s why.

Why is it so important to donate blood? 

Some statistics:

  • Every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood. A car accident victim can require up to 100 pints of blood.
  • People with conditions such as sickle cell anemia require blood transfusions throughout their lives, and the average transfusion uses three pints of blood.
  • The Red Cross collects 15.7 millions blood donations from 9.2 millions donors annually.
  • Of the estimated 38% of eligible donors, only 10% donate blood.
  • A single donation of blood can help three different people.
  • The most common blood type is O.
  • O negative blood is a “universal donor,” which means that it works for all other types of blood. Only 7% of people in the U.S. are O-negative. This type of blood is used most frequently in emergencies when blood type is not known or for newborns.

How does my donation help? 

The majority of donors give because they want to help other people. A donor who donates regularly from age 17 until the age of 76 will donate 48 gallons of blood, potentially helping 1,000 people.

Donors are divided evenly between men and women, and 50% of donors donate regularly. A healthy person can donate red blood cells every 56 days, or double red cells every 112.

What are the different types of blood donations?  

There are four main types of donation:

  • Blood (also known as whole blood): This is the most common blood donation and what most people think of when they think of donating blood. The process takes about an hour, with the actual donation only lasting about eight minutes.
  • Double red: Two pints of red cells are taken from the donor in this type of donation. Because of this, there are height and weight requirements that must be met (at least 5’2” and 150 pounds). This process takes about an hour, and donors can give every 112 days.
  • Plasma: Plasma is collected simultaneously with a whole blood donation, and this takes about 75 minutes. It takes four pints of whole blood to get one pint of plasma, so a direct plasma donation is very valuable.
  • Platelets: This type of donation is not available at every donation center because it requires a special machine. Donating platelets takes one and a half to two hours. Blood is collected, then the platelets and some plasma are separated out and returned to the donor.

There are two other types of blood donations that are less common. Autologous and directed donations are given either for the donor’s personal use or for the use of a specific person, as in a family member. These require prescriptions prior to the donation.

When do they need blood donations? 

All year, but the need for blood tends to spike during major holidays, when donors tend to take a break from donating blood at the same time. Typically blood donations fall off sharply during the period between Halloween and New Year’s Eve by sometimes as much as 50%. With Thanksgiving being the busiest travel day of the year, this drop in blood donations leaves many blood banks and hospitals in precariously short supply.

Many regular donors go out of town during the holidays, and while they are traveling or at their destination, there is a rise in injuries, from car accidents to burns to broken bones from sledding. This is on top of regular demands from patients undergoing chemotherapy or surgery.

Can I donate blood? 

The need for new donors is greater than ever, but there are restrictions in place for blood donors. The basic qualifications and restrictions for whole blood donations include the following. There are additional restrictions around travel and medication usage.

You must be at least 17

Some states allow 16-year-olds to donate with parental consent. Always check with your center.

You must weigh at least 110 pounds

There are different weight requirements for younger donors, but 110 is generally the minimum for adults over age 18.

You must be generally healthy and feeling well

This qualification does not automatically disqualify a chronic pain patient from donating. Days when you are feeling less pain and have not taken any prescription or over-the-counter medications are good days to go donate blood. From the Red Cross website, they say that:

“Healthy means that you feel well and can perform normal activities. If you have a chronic condition such as diabetes, healthy also means that you are being treated and the condition is under control.”

Donating for chronic pain patients

Of course, not everyone can donate blood. There are several restrictions based on age, weight, medical conditions, and recent travel that can affect pain patients. In many cases the biggest concern for people dealing with the effects of chronic conditions will be their medications. The most important step you can take before donating blood is to talk to your doctor about your plans and find out if your medications or illness makes you ineligible.

There is very little definitive information on donating blood and chronic pain. However, there are some chronic illnesses that are associated with chronic pain that may prevent your ability to donate blood. This can include issues like a low blood count.

What will happen during a blood donation? 

Before each donation, technicians will take your pulse, blood pressure, and temperature and check your iron levels. You will answer a series of confidential questions regarding your personal activities, travel, and general health.

There are many reasons why you may not be authorized to donate blood. If you are deferred from donating blood, it may be due to medications you are taking or travel to certain countries. Many of these require a waiting period, but some conditions prevent you from donating permanently. Chronic pain is not necessarily one of these conditions, but talk to your doctor before donating.

How to prepare to donate blood

If you are cleared to donate, drink plenty of water and eat regular meals on the day of your donation. Plan a restful day following your donation and continue to drink plenty of fluids and eat well.

If it is your first time donating blood, consider having someone go with you for support. Once at the donation center, the technicians will take care of you and do everything they can to make sure you are comfortable and the donation goes smoothly.

Does it hurt to donate blood? 

One of the biggest questions when it comes to donating blood is whether or not it will hurt. While we really can’t say that the experience is completely pain-free we can stress that any pain is normally temporary.

If you’ve had blood drawn for various medical tests, it is no less unpleasant than that experience. Another concern for many is the feeling of dizziness that may occur after the blood is drawn. This can happen due to a drop in blood pressure. If you are careful to hydrate yourself prior to the donation, you are less likely to experience this side effect.

The clinic or volunteers will also provide a small snack or juice after the experience to keep you from having a negative reaction. Again, this reaction is generally mild and will pass quickly.

What you can do if you can’t donate

First, determine if your inability to donate is related to a long-term condition or if environmental or medical factors can change. For example, some medications prevent patients from donating blood, such as antibiotics or some pain drugs, but if these are no longer necessary you may be able to qualify for donating again.

Next, if it is determined that you are unable to give blood based on one of the restrictions, there are many opportunities to help the American Red Cross. The most important non-blood related donation that anyone can make is financial. The Red Cross also suggests the following actions:

  • Spread the word to your friends and family who can donate
  • Join the Facebook page to participate in community building
  • Host a blood drive in your area, your office, or an organization with which you’re involved
  • Volunteer to help with blood drives in your community

We want to hear from you. Have you donated blood while living with the effects of a chronic pain condition? What was your experience? How has a blood donation saved yours or a family member’s life? 


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