Why Should I Donate Blood?

You might think that donating blood is most important during a natural disaster or other major event where many people are injured. But hospitals everywhere always need donated blood. In fact, each year blood transfusions help save 4.5 million lives.

According to the American Red Cross, there's a 97% chance that someone you know will need a blood transfusion at some point. One donation could save up to three lives. And a single accident victim may need as many as 100 pints of blood.

Am I Able to Donate Blood?

Most people over the age of 17 can donate blood. In some states, you can donate blood at age 16 if you have a parent's permission. The American Red Cross requires donors to:

  • weigh more than 110 pounds
  • be in good health
  • be screened for some medical conditions, such as anemia
  • wait 56 days between each time donating blood

Things to Know on Your Donation Day

When donating blood, take these steps to make sure you stay safe and healthy: 

  • Drink an extra 16 ounces of water or other nonalcoholic beverage before your appointment.
  • Eat a healthy meal, avoiding fatty foods like hamburgers, fries, or ice cream.
  • Wear a shirt with sleeves that you can roll up above your elbows.
  • Have somebody else drive you to and from the blood bank.
  • Have something to eat and drink after donating. Most blood banks will have snacks for you when you've finished giving blood.

When you get to the blood bank, you'll answer a few questions about your medical history. You'll also be asked about any recent travel, infections you may have, and medicines you take. Your answers help the blood bank staff know if you are healthy enough to give blood. Then they'll check your temperature, pulse, blood pressure, and blood count.

What Happens During and After Donating Blood?

The actual donation part of giving blood usually takes about 10 minutes, and is a lot like getting a blood test.

  • You will either be seated or lying down.
  • A technician will find a vein in your arm by tying a rubber tube around your upper arm, and clean the skin over the vein with rubbing alcohol.
  • The tech will insert a needle into your vein. You may feel a small prick, kind of like getting a shot.
  • Your blood will flow into a tube connected to the needle and into a bag, where it's kept until it's needed.

You should tell the technician helping you if:

  • The sight of needles bothers you.
  • The sight of blood bothers you.
  • You feel nauseated or lightheaded.

This will help prevent a fainting spell, and keep you safe while you give blood.

After you donate, you may feel a little lightheaded or dizzy. These side effects usually go away after a few minutes. Be sure to drink extra fluids during the 24 hours after you donate. If you still feel unwell after that, call your doctor or have someone else take you to the nearest emergency room.

All donated blood is checked for viruses (such as HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C, syphilis, and West Nile virus) and bacteria. Any blood with viruses or bacteria is destroyed. If your donated blood has any of these germs, the blood bank will notify you.

Are There Any Risks to Donating Blood?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates blood banks in the United States. They make sure that all needles and other equipment used for donating blood are sterile and used only for one person, then thrown away. This ensures that nobody gets an infection or disease from giving blood. Blood centers must also pass regular inspections by the FDA to stay open.

Where Can I Donate Blood?

For more information on where to donate and what else is involved, contact your local blood bank, hospital, or the American Red Cross. Donating blood is a great way to help out your community — you could even save someone's life!

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