The nation’s blood supply is currently at historic lows. Some hospitals are even being forced to delay surgeries because of the shortage.
Many people feared donating during the COVID pandemic as they opted not to come in contact with other people. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institute of Health (NIH), donating blood is safe.
If you are a first-time donor, here is what you can expect when you make a blood donation.
First, you need to make sure you are eligible to donate blood. While there may be different requirements for different donation centers and varying state laws and requirements, here are the most common eligibility requirements.
- You must be in good health and not ill on the day you donate.
- You must be 16 or 17 years old, depending on the state. Most states require 16 or 17-year-olds to have permission from their parents or guardians.
- You need to weigh at least 110 pounds
- You must pass a health history assessment
Today, many blood centers require you to be fully vaccinated and free from any COVID symptoms, but this can also vary by location.
You may be ineligible to donate if you fall into what is considered a high-risk group, such as:
- Using illegal or recreational drugs, or any substance not prescribed by a physician in the past three months
- Have a blood disease, such as a congenital coagulation deficiency
- Had a positive HIV test or are a male who had sexual contact with other men in the prior three months
- Had close contact with a person who has viral hepatitis
- Have risk factors for a degenerative brain disorder, such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD)
- Spent three months or more in the UK between 1980 and 1996
- Got a blood transfusion in the UK or France from 1980 on
- Spent more than five years in France or Ireland between 1980 and 2001
There may be other restrictions depending on other state or local regulations.
Preparing for Your Blood Donation
Getting ready to donate blood for the first time is easy. It is recommended that you get a good night’s sleep before donating, eat a healthy meal, and drink plenty of water.
On donation day, make sure you wear a short-sleeve shirt or blouse, or one with sleeves you can roll-up.
During the Donation Process
When it is time to donate, you lie down or sit in a reclining chair. You will have a blood pressure cuff or tourniquet applied on your upper arm to help fill your veins with blood and make them easier to see.
Clinicians will clean the skin on the inside of your elbow and then insert a clean, new sterile needle into the vein. Once the needle has been inserted, you will be asked to squeeze your first a few times to get the blood flowing.
Blood is typically collected into a tube for testing, but then the rest of the blood will fill a donor bag. In most cases, blood draws will be about a pint.
After the donation is complete, the needle will be removed and a bandage will be placed on the insertion site.
The whole donation process can take as little as 10-15 minutes from start to finish.
After the procedure is complete, you will be asked to stay nearby for observation for about 15 minutes. You will likely eat a light snack and get some fluids.
After donating, you should also avoid any strenuous exercise or activity for several hours. It is also recommended that you:
- Continue drinking extra fluids
- Keep the bandage attached for 4-6 hours
- Consider eating iron-rich foods to replace any iron lost during the donation.
If you feel lightheaded, lie down and put your feet up until it passes. This typically happens to a select few people within a few minutes after donating blood. This is one of the reasons they ask that you stay put for 15 minutes following the donation.
If bleeding occurs after taking the bandage off, put pressure on the site and keep your arm raised. You can also apply another bandage. If you experience bruising at the place where the needle went on, you can apply a cold pack for 20 minutes to help reduce bruising or swelling.
If you are feeling sick within a day or two of donating blood, or test positive for COVID, alert the blood donation center.
Donating Blood Is Easy
Once your blood has been taken, it will be tested for blood type and ensure it is free from diseases or anything else that would render it a health risk before being included in the emergency blood supply.
If you want to donate again, you are asked to wait eight weeks before donating blood a second time.
Someone needs blood in the US every two seconds, on average. Each year, more than 4.5 million people need a blood transfusion. Donating just one pint has the potential to save three lives. Consider donating blood today.