February is National Blood Donor Month! This occasion has been observed since 1970, with an ultimate goal of increasing blood donations during the winter. The winter months are actually the most difficult time of the year to collect donations, mainly due to inclement weather causing blood drives to cancel, and an increase in seasonal illnesses. The good news is, this gives us the wonderful opportunity to help raise awareness and recognize the lifesaving contribution of blood and platelet donors. Nothing can replace blood. And unless you are a vampire, chances are you can spare some blood and help save a life or more! This is why National Blood Donor Month is so important for raising awareness to how helpful donating blood can be.
What is Blood?
Blood is a complex part of our system. But how much do you really know about blood besides what you learned in ninth grade biology? Did you know that the amount of blood each individual has varies according to height and weight, but about 7% of a person’s bodyweight is composed of blood? Did you also know that everyone’s blood is made up of four components? These components include, red blood cells, which are filled with hemoglobin and carry oxygen from our lungs to the rest of our bodies; platelets, which help blood to clot when injuries happen; plasma, which is the liquid part of the blood that carries cells and proteins throughout the body; and white blood cells, which defend against infection.
Even though we all have the same components, there are eight different blood types:
Some blood types are rarer than others, like AB positive and AB negative. The more people who donate, the better, so there is a better chance of getting donations of the rare types. The most common type in the US is type O blood because it has neither A nor B antigens on red cells. Blood is important because it delivers oxygen and nutrients to cells and transports metabolic waste away from cells, which supports and maintains our tissues. It is essential for life!
Why Donating Blood is So Important?
Every two seconds of everyday, someone needs a blood transfusion. Each whole donation has the potential to save up to three lives. Nothing can replace blood and unfortunately, it doesn’t have a very long shelf life, about 42 days. This is because the levels of nitric oxide in the blood begin to drop within hours after the blood has left the body. A common misbelief is that people who need blood the most are accident victims. This is not true. The people who need blood transfusions the most are cancer treatment patients, those undergoing orthopedic surgeries, cardiovascular surgeries, and people with inherited blood disorders. There is more to blood transfusion than blood type. If blood types that are not compatible are given during a transfusion, the donor cells will be attacked by the patient’s immune system, which can cause shock, kidney failure, and even death. Interestingly, ethnicity and heritage can also have an effect on transfusions.
What to Know Before Donating
Those eligible for donating may do so as early as 16 years old. However, those under 18 must have parental permission. There are four different types of blood donation:
- whole blood – this is a standard homologous donation consisting of plasma, red and white blood cells, platelets, antibodies, and other components.
- double red cell – this is when you donate twice as many red cells.
- platelet donation – also known as platelet pheresis, this donation is when the plasma is separated from other components by a special machine and the red blood cells and plasma are returned to the donor.
- plasma donation – known as apheresis. This is a similar process as the platelet donation, except only the red blood cells are returned to the donor in cycles throughout the donation.
All have specific requirements, so it’s best to check to make sure which type of donation is suitable for you. Not everyone is able to donate. Speak to your doctor about whether donating is possible for you. Some reasons for being unable to donate are if you have a cold, flu, or other types of illnesses, if you are taking specific medications, have low iron, and/ or are traveling outside of the United States. Remember to keep inquiring if you are able to donate, even if you were previously unable to donate, you might be able to donate now!
How to Prepare
Before your appointment, check in with your doctor. American Red Cross suggests preparing by eating an iron-rich diet leading up to your appointment. This includes red meat, fish, poultry, beans, spinach, iron-fortified cereals, and raisins. It is also important to prepare by staying well rested and hydrated.
On the day of your appointment, make sure to bring your photo ID for proof of age, a medication list including all prescription and over-the-counter medicine you are taking, and a good book to keep yourself occupied while the donation takes place. It is also recommended to drink an extra 16 oz. of water before your appointment. The American Red Cross suggests wearing a long-sleeved shirt that you can roll up above your elbows. A mini-physical and survey of your health history will be taken at your appointment.
After your appointment, you will be given a few minutes to recover with some cookies or other snacks. It is recommended to drink extra liquids and avoid alcohol over the next 24 hours. Keep the bandage on for a few hours to avoid skin rash and wash around the bandage with soap and water. For the rest of the day, avoid vigorous exercising. Keep eating iron-rich foods and if you feel any lightheadedness or dizziness, stop what you are doing and sit or lie down until you feel better.
Community Care Physicians
Community Care strongly encourages consulting your practitioner if you are considering donating blood. If you are need of a practitioner, our Concierge Care Coordinator would be more than happy to connect you with one, call (518) 782-3800.