There's a joke told in blood donation centers about a pick-up line a man uses to attract a pretty woman. It starts out, "Hi, I'm O-negative, so I can donate to anyone." I can't remember the rest of the joke, so you may have to donate now, during National Blood Donor Month, to hear it!
Blood bank donations are needed every day of the year to supply the more than 40,000 units (pints) needed daily. People undergoing cancer treatments, organ transplants and other medical procedures may be able to get family and friends to donate in advance for them, but who is prepared for an accident? Someone with burns over most of her body may need 20 or more pints of blood while a person in a serious automobile accident can require more than 50 pints.
During the winter months, blood donations are down due to the holidays, more inclement weather keeping people at home or interfering with blood drives, and more illnesses making people unable to donate. At the same time, bad weather conditions increase the number of highway accidents and the use of portable heaters that can cause house fires.
Only 38% of the population is eligible to give blood, so it's important that those of us who can, do. Unfortunately, less than 5% of us actually make blood bank donations. The most frequent donors visit donation centers 5 times a year, or once every 56 days. The unit of blood we give represents 10% of the blood in our body, but within two weeks it is completely replaced in healthy donors.
Requirements to Donate Now:
- Age: At least 17 years, with no upper age limit. Younger people can give in some states with parental consent.
- Weight: At least 110 pounds
- Health: In good general health on the day of donation
Reasons You Can't Donate Now:
- Low hematocrit (see explanation below)
- High or low blood pressure
- Recent body piercing or tattoo
- Recent travel within certain countries
- Organ or tissue transplants
- Sexually transmitted disease
- Recent vaccinations
- Chagas disease (rare disease spread by a parasite found in Latin America)
Build Up Your Blood Before You Donate
Having a low hematocrit or hemoglobin level is the most common reason for being temporarily deferred from donating, and accounts for 10% of female donors being turned away. The Food and Drug Administration requires a hematocrit of 38% for everyone who donates blood. For most males, a hematocrit below that level indicates they may be anemic, so they are disqualified. But females can have normal, healthy blood with a hematocrit between 36%-38%, so have to boost their level even higher in order to qualify.
To avoid a wasted trip to the donation center, take these steps before giving blood:
- For at least 3 days before you plan to donate, include plenty of iron-rich foods in your meals. Lean beef, dark green vegetables, enriched breads and cereals, and canned or bagged beans are great choices.
- The day of your donation drink an extra 16 ounces or more of caffeine-free and alcohol-free fluids to increase your blood volume
- Avoid eating too much fat before your donation so it won't interfere with your blood tests
You can learn more about the risks of anemia, read here.