Did you know that many Americans will need blood or a blood product at some point in their lifetime? But sadly, only a small percentage of healthy Americans who are eligible to donate blood actually do donate each year.
Who Is Eligible to Give Blood?
In general, to give blood, you must:
- Be healthy
- Be at least 17 years old
- Weigh a minimum of 110 pounds
What to Expect When Donating Blood
Giving blood may seem scary, but it is a simple process. By knowing what to expect, you can take the mystery—and the fear—out of giving blood.
When You Arrive
When you arrive at the blood drive or center, you will go through an interview. The interview will be private and confidential. You will need to provide your name, birth date, and valid identification.
The American Red Cross will do a mini-physical that includes checking your temperature, blood pressure, and pulse. They will also check a drop of your blood to make sure you have enough red blood cells to donate safely.
You will need to answer questions about your health status and lifestyle. Depending on your answers, you may be deferred from donating blood, either temporarily or permanently.
Let your interviewer know if you have any allergies, especially to latex, bandaging, or tape. Notify them if you do not feel well, have a fever, or have traveled abroad.
When You Give Blood
Now you are ready to give blood. Donated blood comes from a needle inserted into a vein in your arm or hand. All equipment is sterile and used one time. You may feel a small sting from the needle. You do not have to watch the process if it makes you feel uncomfortable. The actual donation will take about 8-10 minutes.
When the process is complete, you will be given some snacks, such a juice and cookies, for energy. Most people do not experience problems after donating blood. Occasionally, some may experience:
- Upset stomach
- Faint or lightheaded feeling
- Black and blue mark, redness, or pain where the needle was inserted
- Very rarely, a person may faint, have muscle spasms, and/or suffer nerve damage
These effects are temporary and fade in a short time. If you change your mind and do not want your blood donated, you can call the donation center. The number will be on a form that is given to you when you leave.
Who Should Not Give Blood?
There are situations when you are not eligible to give blood, such as a current illness. Some restrictions are temporary, meaning you can donate after a specific period of time. Other restrictions are permanent. Examples of situations where you should not give blood include but are not limited to:
- Had a tattoo within the last 12 months in a state that does not regulate tattoo facilities
- Recently received certain vaccinations—Check with the Red Cross Center for specifics
- Ever had Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, or if any blood relative has or had it, or been told that your family is at risk for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease
- Ever received a dura mater (or brain covering) transplant during head or brain surgery
- Received an injection since 1980 of bovine (beef) insulin made from cattle in the United Kingdom due to the risk of mad cow disease
- Spent long periods of time living in countries where mad cow disease is found
- Had hepatitis at or after the age of 11
- Had malaria in the past three years
- Been held in a correctional facility, including jail, prison, or detention center, for more than 72 straight hours in the past 12 months
- Have or been treated for syphilis or gonorrhea or tested positive for syphilis in the past 12 months
- Been raped in the past 12 months
- Taken cocaine or any other street drug through your nose in the past 12 months
or one of its symptoms, including:
- Unexplained weight loss (10 pounds or more in less than two months)
- Night sweats
- Blue or purple spots on or under the skin
- Long-lasting white spots or unusual sores in your mouth
- Lumps in your neck, armpits, or groin, lasting longer than 1 month
- Persistent diarrhea
- Persistent cough and shortness of breath
- Fever higher than 100.5°F (38°C) lasting more than 10 days
Done something that puts you at risk for becoming infected with HIV—You are at risk for getting infected if you have:
- Taken illegal or nonprescription drugs by needle, even once
- Taken clotting factor concentrates for a bleeding disorder such as hemophilia
- Tested positive for any AIDS virus
- Been given money or drugs for sex, since 1977
- Had a sexual partner who puts you at risk for HIV infection
Note that these guidelines change on an as needed basis, and they may vary from region to region. For the most up-to-date information please contact the American Red Cross nearest you or check their website.
Giving blood is a way you can give back to society. It is simple, free, and saves lives. A single blood donation can save up to three lives. To find out where you can donate blood, call 1-800-GIVE-LIFE.
American Red Cross
United Blood Services
Canadian Blood Services
Donation process. American Red Cross website. Available at: http://www.redcrossblood.org/donating-blood/donation-process. February 4, 2016.
Eligibility criteria by alphabetical listing. American Red Cross website. Available at: http://www.redcrossblood.org/donating-blood/eligibility-requirements/eligibility-criteria-alphabetical-listing. Accessed February 4, 2016.
Eligibility requirements. American Red Cross website. Available at: http://www.redcrossblood.org/donating-blood/eligibility-requirements. Accessed February 4, 2016.
Last reviewed February 2016 by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 3/31/2014