Today has been declared World Blood Donor Day by the World Health Organization, a great reminder to make an appointment to donate blood.
I love donating blood, because it's a relatively quick and easy way to get a hit of that self-congratulatory "I'm a good citizen" feeling (okay, I have to admit it's been too long since I've donated, so I'm making an appointment today, I swear).
In case you haven't donated in a while, or ever, here's what you should know:
There's no age limit on donating. As long as you are in good overall health, you can donate blood at midlife and beyond. "As long as chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, are under control, the donor will be eligible," says Lisa McCaughlin, MD, Executive Medical Officer of the American Red Cross. "Even most cancer survivors are eligible to donate after they have completed their course of treatment."
You can donate blood while taking (most) medications. Most common prescription and OTC medications won't interfere with donating. There's a very small list of drugs that are prohibited, and you can find the list on the Red Cross website.
All types of blood are needed (but some even more so). "When we speak about red cells, which carry oxygen, Type O is the most common type among all peoples, and it is always in great demand because it may be safely used for any patient, even when their blood type is unknown," says McCaughlin. "And it is also the most common type among patients, and a Type O patient can only receive Type O blood. Additionally, Type AB plasma is in demand as a universal plasma source, because there are no anti-A or anti-B antibodies in this plasma that could attack and destroy a patient's red cells."
Take care a few precautions before and after donating. "All donors should be well hydrated and preferably have had a balanced meal before donating. They should also rehydrate after the donation and take advantage of the snacks and beverages that we provide at the donation site," she says. "Rigorous exercise before and after the donation should be avoided, and donors should do any heavy lifting for several hours after donating in order to reduce the likelihood of bruising in their donation arm."
Check your eligibility before you donate. Some people are prohibited from donating because travel history or lifestyle factors place them at high risk for diseases such as HIV or malaria. To make sure you're eligible to donate, look at the rules on the Red Cross site.
Less than 10% of people who are eligible to donate blood actually do, and to try to recruit more donors Nexcare brand bandages has created a special collection of cool colored bandages around the theme "Giving Blood is Timeless" (the bandages feature designs intended to evoke decades from the 1950s to today). The attention-getting bandages will be distributed at blood centers this week, and are available to buy at Nexcaregive.com.
One last thing you should know: Donating blood might not be an entirely selfless act, because it can lower iron levels in your body, and some studies link high iron levels in older adults with dementia. In fact, one researcher I've written about before specifically recommends that older adults give blood to reduce iron levels.