Blood, the essential fluid that flows through our bodies, is constantly in need. Blood circulates in our blood vessels and transports nutrients, hormones, medications and cells throughout the body. Because blood cannot be artificially replicated or replaced, blood donors are the only source of blood for patients who need it. Blood drives happen across the country every day, as blood is often needed for hospital patients in trauma situations or blood transfusion patients very often. What happens when you want to help out and donate blood, but can’t?
What is blood?
A unit of blood can be separated into four components.
• Red blood cells. You know these as the blood cells that carry oxygen throughout your body. They contain hemoglobin, which allows the red blood cells to pick up oxygen, deliver it to the body, and remove the resulting carbon dioxide from body tissue.
• White blood cells act as the body’s defense system. They attack infections and move out of the blood stream to do so, attaching themselves to microbes and attacking them in order to fight it.
• Plasma carries these white and red blood cells throughout the body. It is the “liquid” portion of your blood that allows the cells to be transported throughout your vessels.
• Platelets are tiny blood cells that help your body form clots to stop bleeding. If one of your vessels gets damaged—say you cut your hand while chopping in the kitchen—platelets rush to the site of the damage to form a plug, or a clot, to begin healing the wound.
Understanding your blood type
Every human on earth has a blood type that falls in to one of four groups, A, B, AB or O. Blood types are inherited and cannot be changed. What type of blood you have depends on the presence or absence of certain substances in your blood. About 39% of Americans have type O+ blood, and 31% of Americans have type A+ blood.
When donating blood, it’s important to know that only types of blood can be compatible with all other types, or only one type. For example, donors with type O blood can donate cells to those with type A, B, AB or O, but those with type AB blood can only donate to others with type AB.
What happens to donated blood?
Once you arrive for your blood donation appointment to give your donation, a small sample of blood will be taken from you to test your iron levels to ensure they are high enough for donation. After you’ve donated blood, usually a pint’s worth, your donation will be kept on ice until it can be transported from the blood drive to a donation center.
Information about your blood is put into a computer database while your sample is separated from whole blood into its four components using a centrifuge, a machine that spins very fast to separate liquids. Each component will then be packaged separately.
At the same time this is happening, your blood sample will arrive at a laboratory, where it will be tested for your blood type and infectious diseases. If your infectious disease tests come back positive, your sample will be thrown away and you’ll be notified.
The units of blood you’ve donated that are eligible for donation are then labeled and stored at the correct temperatures and for the correct time. Only then is it available to be shipped to hospitals and treatment centers across the country seven days a week.
Is blood donation safe?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has the responsibility of ensuring that the nation’s blood supply is kept safe by a number of overlapping safety measures. These rules and regulations ensure that patients who receive donated blood are protected from diseases or other issues that may affect the safety of the blood and in turn, the safety of the patient.
The FDA requires that blood banks and blood donation centers screen every single donor for transmittable blood diseases, like HIV. The FDA also requires that every blood sample or donation taken be tested for hepatitis, syphilis, and other infectious diseases. If blood is found to have these diseases, it is quarantined until the disease leaves the blood, and blood centers must keep track of those donors who carry the disease to ensure they do not mistakenly donate blood at another location.
Ready to donate?
When you’re ready to donate blood, make sure to find a reputable blood donation center to take your donation. Eat a healthy meal beforehand and drink at least 16oz of water before arriving at the blood donation center. You must be at least 16 years old and weigh at least 110 pounds to donate most whole blood samples. Before your appointment, get a good night’s sleep!
If you’re feeling sick or under the weather the day of your blood donation, call to reschedule and wait for the sickness to pass. Otherwise, you may not be able to donate.
Can I donate?
You may be disqualified from donating blood for a variety of reasons, some of which are under your control and some of which are not. A blood donation center will turn you away if you have any of the following:
• Hemoglobin level below what is safe for donation
• Too high or too low blood pressure
• If you are under treatment for certain diseases
• Tattoos from a non-regulated facility
• Body piercings
• Hepatitis or HIV/AIDS
• International travel to certain countries
• Sexually transmitted infections
• If you are taking certain medications
Some of the most common reasons that people are turned away from donating blood include having a cold, being on certain medications, recent travel outside the United States or low iron levels. Often you will be asked to reschedule your appointment if possible so you do not risk passing infectious diseases or sicknesses on to patients receiving donor blood.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article, including text and images, are for informational purposes only and do not constitute a medical service. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health professional for medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment.