On Your Health

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Myths About Donating Blood

While most people likely have their own specific mental picture of what it means to be a hero, hundreds of Oklahomans in hospitals know their heroes are blood donors.  A whopping 1,000 donations are required each day in hospitals across Oklahoma because of emergencies and ongoing medical treatments.

The Oklahoma Blood Institute serves as the hub for blood donations in Oklahoma and revs up outreach for donors during January, which is also known as National Blood Donation Month. Both new donors and repeat donors take center stage.

“Only about one out of every 20 people in the U.S. donates blood,” says John Armitage, CEO of the Oklahoma Blood Institute. “This means the few who are helping get asked repeatedly to make up a big gap.”

Busting myths with the Oklahoma Blood Institute

Don’t think you can or should donate? Check out the myths below and see if your reason has been busted with help from the Oklahoma Blood Institute.

1. Myth: A person is allowed to donate only once each year. Fact: The human body replaces the amount of donated blood every 56 days. There is no need to wait longer than eight weeks as long as you are healthy.

2. Myth: There is limited blood in the body and it is unhealthy to give some away. Fact: “Healthy people carry an average surplus about two pints of blood, which serves as a reserve in case of severe bleeding. Filling a blood bag takes about one pint, leaving plenty to spare,” said Armitage.

He continued, “Additionally, within just an hour or two of drawing a unit, the body replaces the lost volume by adding water to refill the blood vessels. The fluid correction creates a slight dilution — less than 10 percent — of the blood, which is essentially harmless and naturally corrected by the normal production of replacement cells by the bone marrow.”

3. Myth: Donating blood makes people sick. Fact: “There is research showing regularly donating blood is actually good for your heart. In addition, before every donation, nurses perform a mini-physical for free, which includes checking your iron level, pulse, blood pressure and cholesterol levels,” said Tara Scott, director of donor recruitment and community relations. “Once you become a repeat donor, the Oklahoma Blood Institute will help you track any trends in the levels measured during the physical.”

4. Myth: Donating blood hurts. Fact: “Most people think donating blood is like getting a flu shot, but it isn’t,” Scott said. The quick pinch happens, but then you get to lounge around with a drink while you check your Facebook and Twitter for five to 10 minutes with no pain.”

5. Myth: Giving blood is time-consuming. Fact: Donors generally spend about one hour from sign-in to walking out the door at a donor center. The actual process of giving blood only takes about 10 minutes. “There is no other community service project where you can spend one hour to give someone in the hospital health, hope, healing and comfort.” Scott said.

6. Myth: Your age keeps you from donating. Fact: You can donate blood if you’re healthy and meet the following criteria: age 16 with a weight of at least 125 pounds and parental permission, age 17 with a weight of at least 125 pounds, or age 18 or older with a weight of at least 110 pounds. There is no upper age limit for blood donation.

7. Myth: Taking medications means one cannot donate blood. Fact: “Many donors are able to give while on medication. Whether one can donate or not depends on the medication being taken,” Scott said. “While medication may halt donation for a period, in many cases it won't prevent a donation. It is best to inform the person in charge or the nursing staff of all current medications before donating.”

8. Myth: Those diagnosed with diabetes cannot donate blood. Fact: People diagnosed with diabetes can donate blood regularly if the condition is well controlled with insulin or other medication.

9. Myth: Those with new tattoos aren’t allowed to donate. Fact:  Donors with new ink are welcomed by the Oklahoma Blood Institute as long as the tattoo shop has all proper licenses in place.

10. Myth: Cancer survivors are not allowed to donate blood. Fact: Most cancer survivors can donate blood after one year of being cancer-free. Those who have melanoma without metastases can donate after a three-year waiting period. Those who have had hematologic blood cancers, such as leukemia, lymphoma or multiple myelomas remain ineligible to donate blood.

11. Myth: HIV or other infections can be contracted from donating blood. Fact: “Every time you donate blood you are given a brand new sterile blood donation bag and once that blood is taken that bag is taken to the hospital the needle is removed and incinerated,” Scott said. “Nothing is reused.”

12. Myth: Only blood donors with rare blood types are needed. Fact: “Each blood type is unique and has a specific gift. While O negative is the universal red cell donor, AB plasma is also universal. Since there are several ways to donate and needs fluctuate daily, the Oklahoma Blood Institute would love to have the opportunity to educate interested donors on the differences between donations and what could be the most helpful depending on the blood type,” Scott said.

13. Myth:  Receiving vaccines makes you ineligible to donate. Fact: Depending on the vaccine, you may be able to donate today or have a very short delay period. Refer to the chart below to see the waiting period for common vaccines.

chart showing how vaccines affect blood donation

What should you know before deciding to donate?

Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids during the hours before donation. Eat iron-rich foods, such as meats, fish, nuts and dark, leafy greens. In addition, it’s always a good idea to get lots of rest the night before giving blood.

Donate blood for Oklahomans

With donor locations sprinkled throughout Oklahoma and about 40 blood drives each day, the chance to save lives is never far away. Find a donor center or blood drive near you by visiting the Oklahoma Blood Institute.

“At the other end of that bag is someone who is truly in need of a life-saving donation,” Scott says. “When someone needs blood, there is no substitute, and the only way is for someone to step up and donate blood to save that person’s life.”

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