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How Donating Blood Can Help Your Community

How Donating Blood Can Help Your Community

When you hear about a blood donation campaign, what is your initial response? Often, discussions of blood donation go in one ear and out the other because many people feel squeamish about needles or they don’t think that blood donation applies to them.

However, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. You never know when you may need a critical blood donation because accidents and severe health crises can happen to anyone at any time. Blood donation is also crucial for people who are suffering from chronic illnesses—in fact, 25% of donated blood is used to help people who are actively fighting cancer.

For these reasons, and many more, participating in blood donation can benefit your community greatly. It may even benefit you someday or someone you love. At Lompoc Valley Medical Center, we believe that when given access to information, our patients can be empowered to make the best choices for their own health and the health of their communities. Here’s what you need to know about blood donation and how donating blood can help your community.

What is blood donation?

Blood donation is a process during which blood is removed from your veins and collected. Your blood will then be processed, and it can be stored by a health care center for a certain amount of time. When someone in a hospital or elsewhere needs a blood transfusion, your blood can then be used to help them through their medical crisis and stabilize their condition. The blood donation process is safe for both the donor and the recipient of the blood.

What are the different types of blood donation?

Donating blood is not always as basic as extracting the red stuff. Special equipment can help extract only certain components of your blood and return the rest of your blood to you. This can help you feel fewer symptoms afterward, and it can also make you eligible to donate again within a shorter timeframe.

There are distinct types of blood donations. Here are the main types:

  • A whole blood donation is used for people involved in traumas (like a car accident) and people who may need a blood transfusion during surgery. This type of donation takes about one hour from start to finish, but the actual blood extraction process usually takes less than ten minutes.
  • A red cell donation only takes the red cells from your blood and returns your plasma and platelets to you. These cells can be used for people involved in traumas, during childbirth, for newborn babies, for people with sickle cell anemia, and for general blood loss. This type of donation takes 1.5 hours.
  • A platelet donation is used for conditions that require clotting factors or cells that help you stop bleeding. During a platelet donation, your red blood cells and plasma are returned to you, and your platelets can be used to make several different units. Platelets can help cancer patients and other people who have very serious health conditions or injuries. This type of donation can take 2.5 to 3 hours.
  • A plasma donation uses the liquid part of your blood and returns your red cells and platelets to you. Plasma can be helpful for people in emergencies. This type of donation can take 1.25 hours.

In general, it’s a good idea to eat a healthy diet before a blood donation and to make sure that you are well-rested and well-hydrated. If you have selected a specific type of blood to donate, there may be certain requirements that you should follow in advance. For example, for a platelet donation, it’s important to avoid taking aspirin two days ahead of time.

Who is eligible to donate blood?

Certain criteria make you eligible to donate blood. These may be affected by the type of blood that you are donating. For example: to give a “power red” cell donation, which is two units of red cells, males must be at least 17 years old and weigh at least 130 pounds. Females must be at least 19 years old and weigh at least 150 pounds.

In general, you must be feeling well on the day that you donate, you must be of a certain age (16 in most states), and you must also be of a certain weight (usually 110 pounds). Certain medications require a waiting period before you can donate, so it’s important to check ahead of time to see what is required. If your iron level is too low, you may not be able to donate. If you have traveled outside the United States within a certain period, you may also be restricted from donating. Certain health conditions, such as HIV, tuberculosis, or sickle cell disease may also prevent you from donating blood.

Before donating blood, you will be asked specific questions about your health history, and your temperature, pulse, blood pressure, and hemoglobin level will also be checked to make sure it is safe for you to donate blood.

How often can you donate blood?

Your body has an amazing ability to lose blood through a controlled donation and continue operating in a normal manner. Your bone marrow can generate new blood cells and replace the ones that were donated so that your body can quickly return to its pre-donation state. However, it is not a good idea to donate blood too frequently because your body does need time to replenish cells.

  • You can make a whole blood donation every 56 days or up to 6 times per year
  • You can do a “power red” donation every 112 days or up to 3 times per year
  • You can make a platelet donation every 7 days or up to 24 times per year
  • You can make a plasma donation every 28 days, up to 13 times per year

How does donating blood affect your body?

Donating blood is a life-saving procedure that can help others in your community. However, blood donation also can have benefits for you as a donor. In the short term, after donating blood, your body will kick into high gear to replace the cells that have been lost. You may feel light-headed, fatigued, or nauseous, but these short-term effects can be improved by drinking water before your donation and making sure you eat an iron-rich meal. Over the long term, blood donation may actually be personally beneficial, as 88% of people who donate blood are less likely to suffer a heart attack.

What are blood donations used for?

Blood donations can help with a variety of health conditions. Blood is a crucial component of your body’s many processes, as it helps deliver oxygen and nutrients to all your body's cells and removes carbon dioxide and waste materials. There is no substitute for real blood (there is no synthetic or artificial blood that rivals actual blood), which is why blood donation is so critical.

A blood donation can be used in the following scenarios, in addition to many others:

  • To help a patient dealing with cancer since some cancer processes and some cancer treatments interfere with the process of making blood.
  • To help a patient who has been in a traumatic accident.
  • To help patients with chronic diseases such as sickle cell anemia.
  • To help a patient who has been burned

When a person needs blood, it may not be just one unit that is needed. In fact, according to the American Red Cross, a single car accident victim may need up to 100 units of donated blood.

How can donating blood help your community?

Donating blood is an amazing way to help your community. In fact, in the US someone needs blood or platelets every two seconds. The American Red Cross estimates that every day, 29,000 units of red blood cells, 5,000 units of platelets, and 6,500 units of plasma are needed. However, it’s estimated that while up to 40 percent of people are eligible to donate blood, only 3 percent of people who are eligible to donate actually do.

The more people who donate, the less likely there is to be a blood shortage and the more likely patients are to receive the help they need when they need it. A single blood donation can even help save multiple lives. If you know that you have an “O” blood type, then your blood is in especially high demand. People who have the “O-negative” subtype have the most coveted blood types of all because O-negative blood is used most frequently used kind of blood in emergencies—it is known as the "universal donor."

How to learn more about donating blood

If you are interested in finding a blood donation campaign, there are many resources available. Make sure to check out the American Red Cross blood donation website. You may also contact us at Lompoc Valley Medical Center, and we can happily direct you to a local resource for your donation.