Donating Blood: Giving the Gift of Life
Did you know that more than 95% of Americans reaching age 72 will need blood or a blood product at some point in their lifetime? But sadly, less than 5% of healthy Americans who are eligible to donate blood actually do donate each year.
Who Is Eligible to Give Blood?
In general, to give blood, you must:
- Be healthy
- Be at least 17 years old
- Weigh a minimum of 110 pounds
What to Expect When Donating Blood
Giving blood may seem scary, but it is a simple process. By knowing what to expect, you can take the mystery—and the fear—out of giving blood.
When You Arrive
When you arrive at the blood drive or center, you will go through an interview. The interview will be private and confidential.
You will need to provide:
- Date of birth
- Social security number
- Valid form of identification
The Red Cross will do a mini-physical exam that includes checking:
- Body temperature
- Blood pressure and pulse
- A drop of your blood to be sure you have enough red blood cells to donate safely
- You'll be asked about your past and present health and lifestyle, and the Red Cross will answer any questions you may have. Depending on your answers, you may be deferred from donating, either temporarily or permanently.
- If you are allergic to iodine, tape, or natural latex rubber, tell the interviewer so that the donation staff can substitute other materials.
- You'll be given a form so you can let the Red Cross know, privately, if your blood is safe to give to another person.
Tell the interviewer if you:
- Are not feeling well
- Are running a fever
- Have traveled out of the country lately, especially to less developed countries.
- If at any time you decide that you should not give blood, you may walk away.
When You Give Blood
Now you are ready to give blood. The actual donation will take about 8-10 minutes.
- The Red Cross staff member will cleanse an area of the arm. All of the supplies, including the needle, are sterile and are used only once—for you.
- When the actual donation starts, you may feel a brief "sting" from the needle.
- You will have given about a pint of blood when finished. Your body will replace the plasma (liquid part) in hours and the cells in a few weeks.
When you are finished, you will be given a form with:
- Donation instructions
- A number to call if you decide, after you leave the donation center, that your blood may not be safe to give to another person
- When you are finished, you will be taken into a room and given some snacks (usually juice and cookies) for energy
Although most people feel fine before and after donating blood, a small number of people may experience:
- Upset stomach
- Faint or dizzy feeling
- Black and blue mark, redness, or pain where the needle was inserted
- Very rarely, a person may faint, have muscle spasms, and/or suffer nerve damage
Who Should Not Give Blood?
You should not give blood if you have:
- Had a tattoo within the last 12 months
- Recently received certain vaccinations, check with your Red Cross Center for specifics
- Ever had Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, or if any blood relative (parent, grandparent, sibling, aunt, uncle, or child) has or had it, or been told that your family is at risk for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
- Ever received a dura mater (or brain covering) transplant during head or brain surgery
- Received an injection since 1980 of bovine (beef) insulin made from cattle in the United Kingdom, (due to the risk of mad cow disease)
- Had hepatitis at or after the age of 11
- Had malaria in the past three years
- Spent long periods of time living in countries where mad cow disease is found
- Been held in a correctional facility (including jail, prison, or detention center) for more than 72 straight hours in the past 12 months
- Have or been treated for syphilis or gonorrhea or tested positive for syphilis in the past 12 months
- Been raped in the past 12 months
- Taken cocaine or any other street drug through your nose in the past 12 months
or one of its symptoms, including:
- Unexplained weight loss (10 pounds or more in less than two months)
- Night sweats
- Blue or purple spots on or under the skin
- Long-lasting white spots or unusual sores in your mouth
- Lumps in your neck, armpits, or groin, lasting longer than one month
- Diarrhea lasting longer than one month
- Persistent cough and shortness of breath
- Fever higher than 99°F lasting more than 10 days
Done something that puts you at risk for becoming infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. You are at risk for getting infected if you have:
- Taken illegal or nonprescription drugs by needle, even once
- Taken clotting factor concentrates for a bleeding disorder such as hemophilia
- Tested positive for any AIDS virus
- Been given money or drugs for sex, since 1977
- Had a sexual partner who puts you at risk for AIDS infection
Note that these guidelines change on an as needed basis, and may vary from region to region. For the most up-to-date information please contact the American Red Cross nearest you.
Giving blood is a way you can give back to society. It's simple, free, and saves lives. A single blood donation can save up to three lives. To find out where you can donate blood, call 1-800-GIVE-LIFE.
Donate Blood Now
American Red Cross
The American Red Cross
Canadian Blood Services
Last reviewed May 2008 by Marcin Chwistek, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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