The campaigns destined to promote the altruistic blood donation say it very clearly: to donate blood is to save a life. As explained by doctors that we do not have any substitute for blood, and it can not be elaborated artificially.
However, the human organism itself is capable of regenerating the precious liquid without problems, so that the donor only has to devote a little of his time to help other people recover from a surgical intervention, an accident or illness. Remember that despite proper techniques to store this blood after a while this liquid becomes unusable, i.e., expires. For this reason, it is important not to stop donating blood, and it can be done every three or four months.
For all this, we want to encourage you to donate blood. We answer the most frequent questions you may have before deciding to donate blood, such as what blood types exist and compatibilities, what requirements are needed to be a donor or some advice before, during and after the donation. So there are no excuses: become a donor and help improve the health of those who need it or, even, save a life, with this small gesture of solidarity.
Who can donate blood?
Any healthy person between 18 and 65 years, and with a minimum weight of 50 kilos. From 65 years of age, healthy people who want to continue being donors can consult their doctor, who is the most suitable to advise them in this regard.
In any case, they will give you a test, in which they will ask you about diseases that you have or have suffered, treatments that you follow, medication, trips … and there are some causes why you can not donate for a while, for example:
- If you have recently traveled to an area where there is a danger of exposure to endemic transmissible diseases.
- If you had a tattoo or a piercing done less than four months ago.
- If you have suffered an infection in the last week before donating.
- If you had surgery less than six months ago.
- If you have had an endoscopy in the last four months.
- If you are pregnant -during pregnancy, iron levels decrease due to the requirements of the fetus- or you gave birth less than six months ago, or if you are breastfeeding.
If you have menstruation, it is also better to wait, but since the medical professionals will do a test that determines the level of hemoglobin, they will tell you if you can donate at that time.
Although some diseases, such as allergy, do allow you to donate, provided that the person is not taking medication or more than 48 hours have passed since the vaccine, other pathologies prevent permanent donation:
- People who have tumors cannot be donors.
- Certain chronic diseases, such as AIDS or hepatitis B or C
Can I donate blood if I am taking medication?
It depends on the type of drugs, so you should consult your specific case, since some medications do not alter the blood, but others do, so you can not donate until after you stop taking them.
Thus, contraceptives or pills to regulate blood pressure or cholesterol do not affect when donating blood; However, there are others such as anti-inflammatories, and even a simple aspirin, which does alter the blood’s coagulation, so it is convenient to wait 10 to 15 days after finishing treatment so that the blood is ‘clean’ of medication.
How often can I donate blood?
A healthy young person can donate every three or four months. The first time you are going to donate, they will give you a ‘donor card.’ Your data is recorded, so that you know the time since your last donation and, the next time you go to donate, they will only ask you a few questions to confirm that no circumstance of interest has changed, and they will check again. Hemoglobin levels before performing the extraction.
What do I have to do before going to donate blood?
Blood donation does not require any special preparation although, as stressed by doctors, it is necessary to have breakfast or eaten well (in if it is in the afternoon) before going to donate because, otherwise, ‘you can have a feeling of dizziness and discomfort.’
It is not necessary that you go accompanied because it will not cause any problems after the blood donation, they will offer you some refreshments and a drink so that you recover better, and they will keep you a little while in observation to check that you are perfect and you do not get dizzy.
Are there different types of blood donation?
Yes, although the usual, and more frequent, is the complete donation, in which 450 ccs of blood is extracted, which, as we explained in the previous point, is later fractioned, in order to be able to use its different components – red blood cells, platelets, and plasma- in various treatments.
Another possibility is what is known as the autologous donation, which is when the patient himself, before undergoing surgery, donates his blood to be able to dispose of it if necessary. This has an advantage, and that is that the patient will not generate antibodies against their own blood.
There is also what is known as a directed donation, which consists of selecting specific donors whose blood will be used to help patients who, due to their physiology or the disease they suffer, need blood to have specific characteristics.
The selective donation or by apheresis is one in which the donor donates only part of the red blood components -white blood cells, platelets or plasma-, while the rest returned to the donor. It is usually done to donate platelets.
What is apheresis donation?
The donation by apheresis is a type of blood donation consisting of separate components to reserve only those needed at all times, returning the rest to the donor. For this purpose, a centrifugation process is carried out that allows separating the various components -plasma, platelets, red blood cells- from the blood obtained according to their density, selecting the one that is needed and reserving it in a bag, and return the other cells to the donor by the extraction route.
The requirements to be a blood donor by apheresis are the same as in the case of the traditional donation, but since five days before the donation can not take certain medications such as ibuprofen, paracetamol, aspirin, or any product containing acetylsalicylic acid. Also, before giving by apheresis, you must sign an informed consent.
Safety is fully guaranteed for donor and recipient, since this procedure, which lasts between 45 and 60 minutes approximately, is performed by qualified personnel through a single puncture, and using a machine connected in a sterile disposable circuit with the vein of the donor.
Types of donation by apheresis
The apheresis donation is classified according to the blood element that needs to be extracted, as follows:
- Erythropoiesis, if it is red blood cells.
- Plaquetoapheresis, when platelets are needed.
- Plasmapheresis, to obtain plasma.
- Multi-component, in case several components are required at the same time.
How blood components are used?
Red blood cells: They can be kept for up to 42 days, and they are frequently used in people affected by traffic accidents, transplants, births with hemorrhages, surgical interventions …
Plasma: In this liquid, which can last up to two years, coagulation factors and proteins are in suspension, which serves to halt hemorrhages in hemophiliacs, for example. It is used in patients with rare diseases, in transplants, to alleviate bleeding that occurs during complicated operations, and so on.
Platelets: These cells – which can be kept between five and seven days – help to stop bleeding and are necessary for leukemia patients, in those who are undergoing chemotherapy treatments, in transplants …
Advantages of apheresis donation
- It allows the extraction of more of the desired element – which is usually platelets – while the rest is returned to the donor.
- With a single donation, you get a greater contribution of the elements that are most needed at each moment. For example, in the case of platelets, an extraction is sufficient to obtain the necessary dose from the same donor, whereas with the traditional method it would be needed to resort to five or six different donors.
- Higher quality extracted components have fewer impurities.
- The donor can go to donate more often – the components take less than a week to recover their status – while the traditional donation can only be made every two months.
- More security for the receiver. The patient who needs the blood component receives more from the same donor, thus decreasing the risk of exposure to different antigens from several donors.
The blood, which is 1/13 of the total weight of a person – which would be equivalent to five liters in the case of an individual weighing 65 kilos – is made up of different components, which are plasma (55%), and blood cells that form in the bone marrow: red blood cells – or red blood cells – (43%), and white blood cells – or leukocytes – and platelets (2%).
There are substances called ‘surface antigens,’ which are located in the membrane of red blood cells, and which are not the same in all people. The plasma also contains antibodies that attack antigens that do not belong to the organism. Therefore, if a transfusion is performed between two people whose blood does not have equivalent or compatible antigens, an unwanted immune response occurs, which can lead to the death of the recipient. To avoid this, it is necessary to know the blood group of donor and recipient and check that they are the same or compatible.
Components of blood
The plasma is a liquid in which are suspended red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets – that are solid elements of blood, and also containing various substances required by the body for proper functioning, such as proteins, fats and carbohydrates, and the coagulation factors that prevent bleeding.
The red blood cells are responsible for transporting oxygen from the lungs to different tissues, while the white blood cells serve to protect the body against pathogens, so their number increases when we suffer an infection to improve the defenses.
The function of platelets – the smallest blood cells – is to help stop bleeding by adhering to the damaged area until clot forms.
Classification of blood groups
The ABO blood group system – based on the antigens – was discovered by Karl Landsteiner more than a century ago, and it was a tremendous scientific revelation, which in addition to making blood transfusions safe, was also used in legal and forensic medicine, in paternity tests and to study murder victims, for example.
This system, which is used to determine the compatibility between donor and recipient in blood transfusions, distinguishes four types of blood groups according to the characteristics of the surface of the red blood cells and the blood serum of a blood person:
TYPE A: Antigens A – Anti-B antibodies.
TYPE B: Antigens B – Anti-A antibodies.
TYPE O: Absence of antigens – Anti-A and anti-B antibodies.
TYPE AB: Antigens A and B. It has no anti-A or anti-B antibodies.
Rhesus factor (RH)
The factor RH, which is based on the presence or absence of a type of antigen, factor D, in red blood cells, should also be taken into account to determine the compatibility of donor and recipient:
RH +: means that a person has factor D in their blood, something that happens to 85% of the population.
RH-: The individual lacks the factor D antigen, which occurs in 15% of the remaining cases.
Compatibility of blood groups
In the following chart, you can see the classification of the blood groups that are taken into account before carrying out a blood transfusion, and what compatibilities exist between the different groups. If you know your blood group, you can check with which other groups your blood is compatible, both at the time of donating and at the time of receiving.
What do they do with the donated blood?
The donated blood is processed and maintained in special refrigerators. Different procedures are carried out to be able to take advantage of it throughout its useful life. Patients are sometimes transfused whole blood, but other times red blood cell or platelet concentrates are used, depending on the pathology they present.
It is important to bear in mind that some patients lose a lot of blood and may need four or more bags of blood, and each bag comes from a single donation, so it is so important that people become aware and become a regular donor.
Does giving blood have any advantage for me?
In addition to the ethical and moral value of the person who donates their blood altruistically and in solidarity, the blood you donate is analyzed, and the results of these analyzes are sent to the address you have provided, so if they discover that you have any condition, they will notify you at once confidentially.
On the other hand, remember that any of your loved ones, or yourself, may need a transfusion at any time, and if another person had not been so generous to offer their blood, that treatment would not be possible.