What happens during blood donation?

Donating blood is generally simple and quick. It takes a total of about one hour of your time. Although the actual donation time is about 10 minutes, there are some items that need to be taken care of before and after the donation process.

When you arrive to donate blood, you need to show an ID, such as a driver’s license or passport. You then are asked several health questions, including what types of medication you are taking, both prescription and over-the-counter. The questions are personal. It is very important that you read all of the information carefully and answer all of the questions honestly. The answers are kept confidential.

A quick exam also takes place to ensure that you are healthy enough to give blood. A nurse or technician takes your temperature, blood pressure and pulse. The technician also takes a small sample of your blood with a finger stick to make sure your hemoglobin is not low.

During the actual blood donation, you are either lying down or sitting in a chair. First, the area inside of your elbow is cleaned with antiseptic. Next, the technician inserts a needle into a vein in your arm and draws a pint of blood out of your body. It is not usually painful, but you will feel a prick when the needle goes through your skin.

Afterwards, you are given a small snack and something to drink. You are asked to remain seated for about 15 minutes to make sure there are no side effects or problems. You can leave after you have rested and are sent home with instructions to take it easy, drink plenty of water, and avoid strenuous exercise for the next day or so.

What does blood donation feel like?

Most people describe only feeling the needle pricking the skin as it enters, without other discomfort. Very few donors have other issues during or after donating.

After giving blood, some people may feel a little dizzy or weak. That is why it is important that you rest for several minutes before leaving. It is also best to eat a snack and have a drink of water or juice right after you donate blood.

What happens to the donated blood?

The donation is tested for blood type and for certain infectious diseases, but you should never donate blood for the purpose of getting tested for infectious diseases, you should see your doctor for that instead. Each pint of donated blood goes through some laboratory tests for infectious diseases before it can be used for patient care. If it does not pass these tests, the blood cannot be used and is safely thrown away. The donor will be notified when this happens.

The blood then goes to the lab where it is tested for blood type and the red blood cells, platelets, and plasma are separated. The blood is usually available for patient use about 1 to 2 days after collection.

Who uses donated blood?

Volunteer blood donations will go to patients who need blood the most. Typical recipients are those patients going through:

  • Cancer treatment
  • Heart or orthopedic surgery
  • Organ transplant surgery
  • Surgery after accidents

You can also donate blood for use by a family member or friend who has the same blood type as you. This is called a directed donation.

Sometimes, a healthy person can donate blood prior to a non-emergency surgery. This blood is stored and available for surgery only for the person who donated it. This is especially helpful for patients who are difficult to find blood for because of antibodies. This is called an autologous donation.

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