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How Your Blood Donation Can Save a Life

26 January 2022

Take a second and count to two. By now, someone in the United States needs blood. Yes, whether it’s for cancer patients or an organ transplant, someone needs a transfusion every two seconds.

In today’s world, many things can be manufactured in a plant or research lab. Unfortunately, blood transfusions in hospitals are only possible thanks to donor blood. 

Each year, nearly 7 million Americans donate blood. The downside is that it amounts to only 3 percent of age-eligible people. Donating blood goes a long way, especially during the pandemic. Recently, the Red Cross said it’s experiencing the worst blood shortage in over a decade. This blog serves as a reminder of how a single donation can save someone’s life.

 

Types of blood donation

Blood contains red blood cells, platelets and plasma. There are several types of donations to choose from when you donate.

Whole blood donation

This is the most common type of donation in which a pint of blood is collected and separated  into red blood cells, plasma and platelets. Whole blood can help cancer patients, people with blood disorders or trauma patients who have experienced a severe injury or accident and need blood. While it is the most common type of donation, whole blood transfusions are less common except for people who experience significant blood loss from a surgery or injury. Instead, whole blood is separated and can benefit several people.

Preferred donor blood types: All blood types

Platelet donation

Platelets help your blood clot to prevent bleeding. During the collection process, a centrifuge separates red blood cells from platelets – red blood cells are heavier and sink to the bottom. The platelets are collected and the red blood cells are returned to your blood. Platelet donations have many uses, including people fighting chronic diseases and trauma patients.

Preferred donor blood types: A positive, A negative, B positive, O positive, AB positive and AB negative

Double red cell donation

Also called a power red donation, this process involves donating two units of red blood cells. The red blood cells are filtered out and collected while platelets and plasma are returned to your body. Red blood cells help deliver oxygen to your body, so they are critical for blood transfusions in patients who experience significant blood loss from a traumatic injury.

Preferred donor blood types: O positive, O negative, A negative, and B negative

Plasma donation

Plasma is the liquid portion of your blood that helps your blood clot and also plays an important role in immune system health, blood pressure regulation and maintaining a pH balance. During a plasma donation, your blood runs through a centrifuge to separate out the plasma. Once collected, the remaining red blood cells and platelets are returned to your blood. Plasma helps trauma patients, including those in severe accidents or who experience burns. It also helps patients with blood disorders or who are immunocompromised.

Preferred donor blood types: AB positive, AB negative

 

Benefits of blood donation

For starters, one donation can potentially save up to three lives. Beyond that, it can also benefit you, the donor. 

Since your blood is being transferred to another person, donation banks need to ensure you’re healthy and free of diseases that could impact the recipient. As a result, you’ll generally receive a free health check up that can reveal things like undetected high blood pressure or abnormal blood counts.

Although donating blood shouldn’t replace an annual checkup with your primary care physician, it is an added layer of protection that may pick up on something that developed since your last doctor’s visit.

In addition, many blood donor centers also now test for COVID-19 antibodies, which can give you a general idea of your immune system’s ability to defend against COVID or inform you of a recent exposure to COVID you were unaware of.

Donating Blood

 

Uses of donor blood

When you donate blood, it is usually separated into red blood cells, plasma and platelets so several patients can benefit.

Your blood can serve various conditions and problems depending on the needs.

Cancer: People battling cancer often struggle to keep up with normal blood production. For example, cancers that damage bone marrow, such as Leukemia, can cause low platelets and red blood cell counts since they are responsible for producing blood cells. Chemotherapy to treat cancer can also damage bone marrow and limit blood cell production.

Trauma: Severe injuries that cause significant bleeding generally need transfusions for both red blood cells and plasma. Plasma donations can help patients who need help to stop bleeding.

Sickle cell disease: This disease, which mostly affects people who are of African descent, causes abnormally shaped red blood cells that can inhibit blood flow. One form of treatment involves red blood cell transfusions, especially before surgeries, to help improve blood flow.

Blood disorders: There are many disorders that can affect different parts of the blood. Common examples include anemia (low red blood cells), hemophilia (low plasma) or thrombocytopenia (low platelets).

Burn patients: Since plasma plays a large role in several important functions, such as maintaining blood pressure, transfusions are often given to burn patients to assist in the healing process.

Surgery: People undergoing surgeries can experience significant blood loss, thus requiring a blood transfusion. Red blood cells, platelets and plasma are all needed in cases of severe bleeding.

Pregnancy: Either during a pregnancy or after childbirth, women can experience complications such as anemia due to iron deficiency or hemorrhaging that require a blood transfusion. These transfusions typically involve red blood cells.

Autoimmune diseases: People with autoimmune diseases can have low platelets and need a transfusion to replenish their supply.

 

How often can you donate blood?

How often you can donate blood depends on the type of blood you’re giving.

Here is an overview depending on donation type:

  • Whole blood: Eight weeks (56 days) and six times a year
  • Double red cells: 16 weeks (112 days)
  • Platelets: Every seven days up to 24 times per year
  • Plasma: Every 28 days up to 13 times per year

 

Blood donation requirements

Who can donate blood depends on individual state requirements. In general, you must be 17 years or older and weigh at least 110 pounds.

In Oklahoma, you can donate blood if you are 16 or older (with signed parental permission) and weigh at least 125 pounds. For people 18 and older, you only need to weigh 110 pounds. You also must be in good overall health. 

Beyond that, there are certain medical conditions, illnesses or exposures that would make you ineligible for blood donation. Some examples include receiving a rabies shot (must wait one year before donating) or receiving monoclonal antibodies to treat COVID-19 (must wait three months before donating). Pregnant women must also wait six weeks until after delivery to donate.

For a full list of topics and questions about blood donation requirements, visit the Oklahoma Blood Institute’s “Can I Donate” page.

 

If you’re interested in donating blood, please visit the OBI’s donor page to find a location or event near you.

 

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