DCH Corner – Blood Donation FAQs

Blood is traditionally in short supply during the winter months—especially January—due to the holidays, travel schedules, inclement weather, and illness. A reduction in donor turnout can put our nation’s blood inventory at a critical low. January has been designated as National Blood Donor Month to encourage people to give or pledge to give blood. If you have the time, consider donating in January to help organizations that need to use blood for various purposes. Below are answers to some frequently asked questions about blood donation from the American Red Cross.

Who can donate blood? In most states, donors must be age 17 or older. Some states allow donation by 16 year olds. Donors must weigh at least 110 pounds, be in good health, and not at risk for HIV/AIDS or hepatitis.

Where can I donate blood? To find the most convenient location for you to give blood, call 1-800-RED-CROSS.

How often can I donate blood? You must wait at least eight weeks (56 days) between donations of whole blood. Regulations are different for those giving blood for themselves (autologous donors) and for those donating blood by automated collection methods (apheresis).

May I donate blood if I am taking birth control? Women on oral contraceptives or using other forms of birth control are eligible to donate.

May I donate blood if I have undergone dental procedures or oral surgery recently? Yes. It is acceptable to donate blood after dental procedures as long as there is no infection present. Wait until finishing antibiotics for a dental infection. Wait for 3 days after having oral surgery.

May I donate blood if I am on Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)? Women on hormone replacement therapy for menopausal symptoms and prevention of osteoporosis are eligible to donate blood.

May I donate blood if I have used intravenous drugs? Those who have ever used IV drugs that were not prescribed by a physician are not eligible to donate. This requirement is related to concerns about hepatitis and HIV.

Why does it seem like there’s always a blood shortage? Medical advances have improved the treatment of serious illness and injuries. These advances have increased the need for blood and blood products. Also, “baby boomers,” who make up the majority of blood donors, are aging. As they grow older, fewer are eligible to give blood, yet more of them need blood as their health declines.

What are the risks associated with blood transfusion in addition to the risk of infectious disease? Occasionally, reactions to blood transfusion occur. However, in most cases the reactions are mild, usually fever or chills. Many transfusion reactions are caused by the donor’s white blood cells (leukocytes) transfused along with the red cells or platelets. These leukocytes may cause fever, or may carry certain viruses. Clinical trials suggest that filtering red blood cells and platelets to reduce the number of white blood cells prior to storage (pre-storage leukocyte reduction) reduces complications.

Are blood substitutes available? Fluids that carry oxygen are being developed and may become available in the future in the United States. These “artificial blood” fluids may be able to replace red blood cell transfusions in some but not all cases. They cannot replace platelet or plasma transfusions. Transfusions of human blood will continue to be needed. New medical techniques and drugs can sometimes significantly reduce or eliminate the need for blood transfusion. Most surgeries today require far less blood than just a few years ago. For example, patients on kidney dialysis who previously needed monthly blood transfusions can now take a drug that is intended to increase red blood cell production. The Red Cross actively follows blood substitute research and works closely with other organizations that develop new transfusion alternatives.

At Decatur County Hospital, we keep a supply of blood on hand to use as needed with patients, and for surgical purposes. We encourage you to donate blood through the American Red Cross or Lifeserve Blood Center to help ensure we can get the supply we need to serve our patients. To learn more about Decatur County Hospital and our available services, please visit www.decaturcountyhospital.org, or follow us on Facebook @DecaturCountyHospitalIowa.