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University Health

Blood Donation FAQ

Blood Donation FAQ

Why is blood donation important?

Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood, and about 21 million blood products are transfused each year nationwide. At University Health, we transfuse tens of thousands of blood products every year. Blood donors are needed to keep up the blood supply to donate to patients in need. All blood donated at University Health is used in-house for our patients.

Who can donate blood?

Most healthy adults are eligible to give blood. There are some criteria donors must meet, such as age, height and weight minimums. Review our blood donor education material and blood donor screening sheet before scheduling an appointment.

The FDA has revised its guidelines about who can donate blood. Some of the categories that were previously excluded from donating blood have been revised. These revisions include:

  • Donors who lived in certain European countries or on military bases in Europe and may have been exposed to mad cow disease can donate blood. People who lived in England are still excluded.
  • Donors who have traveled to certain malaria-endemic areas are now deferred for only three months.
  • Donors who were excluded due to needle sticks, tattoos or piercings are now deferred for only three months. Tattoos and piercings are acceptable sooner than three months if the procedure was done at a state-licensed shop, sterile one-time equipment was used, and the site has healed. This usually is about two weeks after the procedure.
  • Donors at higher risk of transmitting HIV—such as men who have recently had sex with another man or women who have had sex with a man who had sex with another man—are now deferred for only three months.

Who cannot donate blood?

There are a number of reasons why some individuals may not be permitted to give blood. Here are the most common:

  • Medical conditions that can temporarily or even permanently keep a person from giving blood include:
  • Low iron (hemoglobin) level
  • Respiratory infection, cough, sore throat or cold/flu
  • Diarrhea or abdominal pain
  • Medications
  • Pregnancy
  • Travel to countries where malaria has been regularly found. If you traveled to Europe in the 80’s - 90’s, please check with the donor services staff.

Will I need a COVID-19 test before donating blood?

No. Donors cannot spread the disease through a blood donation. However, we do ask that donors are feeling healthy when they arrive for their scheduled appointment.

Why do iron (hemoglobin) levels matter?

Having a low iron count is the top reason people cannot donate blood. Iron is part of a protein in your body that carries oxygen to your tissues. Your body needs iron to help maintain strength and energy. Donating blood depletes your body of iron, so if your iron level is already too low, you should not give blood.

How can I improve my iron levels?

Women should get about 18 mg of iron a day, and men should get about 8 mg a day. Certain foods can help increase your iron level. These foods include:

  • Grains: oats, quinoa, tortillas
  • Meat: liver, oysters, mussels, beef, some pork products, fish, chicken
  • Non-meat protein: eggs, refried beans, nuts, peanut butter, green peas
  • Fruit: prunes, dried apricots
  • Juices: prune juice, tomato juice
  • Vegetables: dark leafy greens, such as spinach, kale or collards

If you are unable to include more iron-rich foods in your diet, check with your physician about taking an iron supplement.

Is there a weight or age requirement?

Yes, you must weigh at least 115 lbs. and be at least 17 years of age. Review our height and weight standards guide to see if you qualify.

How long does it take?

Donating whole blood takes about 30 minutes total, and the actual donation takes 8-10 minutes. Platelet donation can take up to two hours, from start to finish. The donation itself usually takes 45-60 minutes.

Is there anything I should do before I donate?

Eat! We recommend eating within three hours before you plan to donate to minimize the risk of not feeling well after donation.

How often can I donate?

Whole blood donors are eligible to give blood every eight weeks. Platelet donors can give platelets every two weeks, up to 24 times a year. We encourage you to become a regular donor—our patients need you!

Should I stop taking certain medications before donating?

No. Do not stop taking medications prescribed by your doctor. However, donating while taking certain drugs could have a negative effect on your health or on the health of the recipient of your blood. Consult the medication and drug deferral list for more details.

What are the components of blood?

Whole blood is made up of several components: red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets and plasma. We separate blood into its components when a donor gives blood.

Red blood cells

These are round cells that deliver oxygen to all of your tissues. They also take carbon dioxide back to your lungs to be exhaled. Each unit of red blood cells can be stored, refrigerated, for a maximum of 42 days.

White blood cells

These are part of the immune system, acting as the body’s primary defense against illness and disease. White blood cells produce antibodies to protect you from harmful bacteria, viruses and other foreign invaders.

Platelets

These are cell fragments that begin the clotting process when you bleed. Platelets are important in the control of bleeding and are often used in patients with leukemia and other forms of cancer. Platelets are stored at room temperature for a maximum of five days.

Plasma

This carries other blood cells, water, nutrients, enzymes, hormones, antibodies and complex proteins throughout your body. It is also essential in helping your blood clot. Plasma can be stored frozen for up to one year.