Blood Donation Basics

The requirement for donor blood is on rise. Millions of people need blood transfusions each year. Diseases like dengue, sickle cell anaemia, certain types of cancers, surgeries, accidents, natural and man-made disasters etc have been the major cause for the need of donor blood all over the world. About 88 million units of blood are collected annually all over the world which is not sufficient for the population of 6,910 million that requires at least 150 million units annually. In India, the number of voluntary blood donor is around 8 for every 1,000 population. Against an annual demand of 12 million units, India is only able to collect around 9 million units of which 70% is from voluntary blood donors while the remaining 30% is from family/replacement donors.  Blood makes up to 7% of a person’s body weight. The transferable products that can be derived from blood are red cells, platelets, plasma and cryoprecipitate. A unit of donated whole blood can produce at least 3 products, hence each donation can help save up to three lives.

There is no substitute for human blood as it cannot be manufactured. Donating blood is a noble cause and a selfless act which helps save lives.  But still, many people fail to volunteer as some believe that blood donation can lead to weakness or infection, some avoid it due to the thought of being pricked while others think that blood donation can lower their immunity.

Blood donation is actually a safe and sterile process that ensures safety and health benefits to both donor as well as the recipient.  Blood donation is a simple process that includes medical history, physical exam, and donation.

The donor will be handed a medical history form that will have questions which help in deciding the eligibility of the donor.  A person who is at least 50 kgs, aged between 17-66 yrs with good level of general health without anaemia or high blood pressure, no chronic diseases and HIV, hepatitis etc or any serious illnesses in the past and no tattoos or body piercings in the past 12 months is an eligible donor. Pregnant or lactating women are not allowed to donate blood. The donor should ensure extra intake of iron-rich foods a week before donation to improve haemoglobin percentage. Good hydration, good sleep and calm mental status allows for a safe and successful donation.

The eligible donor undergoes a mini-physical exam that includes blood pressure, pulse, temperature and haemoglobin to ensure safety for the donor.

The actual blood donation typically takes less than 10-12 minutes. The average adult has about 10 units of blood in his body. Roughly 1 unit is given during a donation. The donor is allowed to lie or sit in a reclining chair with your arm extended on an armrest. A blood pressure cuff or tourniquet is placed around the upper, and the skin on the inside of the elbow is cleaned. A new, sterile needle is inserted into a vein in the arm. This needle is attached to a blood bag by a tube. Blood initially is collected for testing. The needle is usually in place about 10 minutes till the blood bag is filled. When complete, the needle is removed and a small bandage is placed on the needle site with dressing.

Apheresis is another method of donation where the blood is drawn from one arm and pumped through a machine that separates out a specific component, such as platelets. The rest of the blood is then returned through a vein in your other arm. This process helps in collection of more than a single component from the donor. This process takes at least one or two hours. A healthy donor may donate red blood cells every 56 days or donate platelets as few as 7 days apart, but a maximum of upto 24 times a year.

Blood donation improves the donor’s health. It balances the iron levels in the body that improves the overall cardiac health and avoids certain types of cancers.  It also lowers the cholesterol levels in the blood making it less viscous and promoting good blood flow that reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke. Blood donation triggers the formation of new blood cells that improves the overall health and longevity in the donor. So, give blood and get good health!

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