Healthcare in Canada

Why should I donate blood? Blood is a constant need in the medical community. People in accidents brought to emergency will need blood. Patients undergoing surgery, cancer treatment, or therapy for burns or blood-related diseases will need blood. To keep the supply fresh and plentiful, donors are always needed. Not convinced? Just one donation can save up to 3 lives.

Is there any reason I should not donate blood? Certain existing conditions, diseases, or lifestyle risk factors may prohibit you from donating blood. Engaging in activities that put you at risk for HIV or hepatitis could count you out of the donor pool. If you have tested positive for HIV or AIDS, you will not be able to give blood. And if you are unsure about your disease status, check with your doctor before seeking to donate blood.

Am I eligible to donate blood? If you are at least 17 years of age and in generally good health, you are eligible to donate. If you are in your 60s or 70s, you may be required to be assessed by a doctor before you can donate. You also need to weigh at least 50 kg (110 pounds). If you are between 17 and 23, your eligibility depends on your height, so ask first. You may be turned away, for a while at least, if you have very recently had dental work, a cold or a flu, or if you have had piercing or tattooing in the last 6 months.

Is it safe to donate blood? Only sterile, one-use needles are used in blood donation, so you are not at risk of infection. And if it is the loss of blood you worry about, don't worry: Your body soon replaces what has been taken. Also, donating does not put you at risk of disease.

How long will it take to give blood? Wait time and the time it takes for you to fill out paperwork may vary from person to person and agency to agency. With screening and recovery, the whole process takes approximately one hour. The actual process of drawing blood takes about 15 minutes.

Is there anything I should do to prepare to give blood? In the hours leading up to your donation, you would do well to eat enough to prevent any faintness or reaction. Drink enough to maintain blood volume. And get plenty of sleep the night before.

What happens before I give blood? You will first be asked to prove your identity and provide a quick finger-prick sample to test that your iron levels are adequate to make a donation. If your iron levels are good, your blood pressure and temperature will be checked and you will be asked to fill in a questionnaire and speak with a trained health professional. Do not be alarmed if questions seem highly personal. All information gathered is confidential and necessary to ensure the safety of donors and those receiving donated blood.

How is my blood taken? A donation of blood is taken under sterile conditions. A gloved health professional will cleanse your arm with a disinfecting agent and insert a sterile single-use needle into a vein to withdraw blood. Blood flows via plastic tubing into a sterile blood bag. Once blood has been extracted, the needle is carefully removed and the small puncture is covered with a cotton ball and bandage or sterile gauze.

How much of my blood will be taken? On average, the human body contains 5 litres of blood (10.5 pints). A donor will usually give about half a litre of blood (one pint).

How will I feel after I donate blood? Most donors feel fine and well after a donation. Some feel a bit dizzy, nauseated, or tired. Rarely, people faint or experience muscle spasms. You should avoid strenuous activity for 6 to 8 hours after you have given blood. Some post-donation symptoms require that you contact blood services for follow-up: fainting, bruising, illness, or diarrhea within a week of giving blood; symptoms of West Nile virus within 2 weeks; a positive hepatitis or AIDS test within a year.

What happens to my blood once it is donated? Once your blood has been collected, it will be tested and screened for transmissible diseases. A centrifuge will separate blood into its components - red blood cells, plasma, and platelets. White blood cells will be removed to prevent passing along any infection that might be present unnoticed in these immune cells. Blood is stored to extend shelf life. Platelets last only about 5 days, whole blood for 35 days, and red blood cells for 6 weeks. If properly stored, plasma can be useful for up to 10 years. And once a hospital places an order, blood is shipped out and used to help save lives.

If I want to, can I give blood again? Yes, but you will need to wait 56 days. That is approximately how long it will take your body to replace all components of your blood - plasma, platelets, and red blood cells.

Amy Toffelmire