10 Myths About Donating Blood


January 21, 2021

Your veins hold a treasure that could mean the difference between life and death for another person. It may sound dramatic, but it’s true. Blood donation saves lives.

Still, many potential donors are reluctant to participate. Perhaps you, too, are confused about the process or have been misinformed by well-meaning acquaintances.

The truth about blood donation is that it’s a safe and fairly straightforward process. It’s time to get to the bottom of common blood donation myths so that you can become a hero who regularly contributes to the national blood supply.

Myth #1: Blood donation doesn’t make a difference.

Every day, approximately 38,000 patients in the United States receive donor blood. That means that a blood transfusion is administered about once every two seconds.

Blood donations are often given to emergency patients, such as accident and disaster victims. Surgical procedures and childbirth may also cause blood loss requiring transfusions. 

Donor blood, too, can promote health and healing for people with a variety of diseases and conditions, including cancer, liver failure and sickle cell anemia.

One blood donation can help up to three people. But some patients need to receive blood from three or more donors during the same transfusion.

Myth #2: I can’t give blood if I’ve been sick or had cancer.

Yes, there are medical issues that can prevent you from being a donor, some temporarily and others permanently. However, you shouldn’t automatically assume that a current or past illness will exclude you.

For example, you can donate blood when you have a cold as long as you’re not running a fever or experiencing a productive cough. In general, donation is acceptable for people with asthma and diabetes, too.

In some cases, you may need to wait for a while after treatment. You can donate 10 days after antibiotic injections, one year into remission from most cancers and three years after completing malaria treatment.

Note that some conditions do rule out any blood donations now or in the future. They include HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, blood cancer and dura mater transplants.

Not sure if you can donate? The American Red Cross maintains a list of various health conditions and their effects on eligibility.

Myth #3: I’m too old to donate.

In general, there’s no upper age limit on blood donation, and older adults are welcome to donate regularly. Some jurisdictions or facilities may choose to set maximum age limits, though.

Minimum age limits are more common. 

Usually, donors must be at least 17 years old to donate, and they must meet minimum height and weight requirements. In many states, kids as young as 16 can donate with signed parental consent.

Contact a local organization to learn the specifics in your area.

Myth #4: My blood type isn’t needed.

Some blood types are considered universal because they can be given to recipients with any blood type. For whole blood donations, type O is the universal donor. For platelet and plasma donations, the universal varieties are AB- and AB.

But don’t shy away from giving blood just because you don’t fit into one of those groups. 

Your donations can still be given to any recipients with your blood type and, in most cases, can be matched with one or more other blood types as well. 

Every donation is valuable and helps ensure a well-stocked blood supply for healthcare facilities throughout the country.

Myth #5: All types of blood donation are the same.

When you imagine giving blood, whole blood donation is probably what comes to mind. In this process, one pint of blood is drawn from your body. It may be given to a patient as-is or separated into its various components.

A twist on whole blood donation is double red cell donation. 

The American Red Cross calls this Power Red. Using a special machine, you can give twice as many red blood cells as you would during a typical donation session.

Instead, some recipients need only one blood component, which you can provide through platelet or plasma donations. To give platelets, you might need to set up a special appointment at a donation facility. And some organizations may request plasma only from universal donors.

Myth #6: I can give only once a year.

Actually, blood collection organizations would love to see you at least once every two months or so. Regular donations can be made every 56 days. You can repeat double red cell donations every 112 days. It’s safe to make plasma donations every four weeks and platelet donations once a week.

Myth #7: Blood donation is risky for my health.

You can count on blood centers in the U.S. to operate according to safe, sterile practices.

Each donor gets a fresh needle, which is disposed of after the donation procedure, so you don’t have to worry about catching a disease from the equipment. Also, the center will screen your blood for diseases before administering it to a patient.

Since a donation is just a single pint of blood, your body will soon replenish the fluids and blood components that you lost. Your level of red blood cells should be back to normal within just a few weeks.

Although donation is safe, you should still take care of yourself on the day of a blood drive. Eat a well-balanced meal and drink plenty of water ahead of time. Afterward, take a few minutes to rest at the donation site, and keep refilling your water bottle throughout the day.

Myth #8: Donated blood lasts forever.

Every day, thousands of units of blood are given to patients in need, but that’s not the only reason that constant restocking is necessary. 

Blood donations have a short shelf life, and the stores must be continually replenished.

Red blood cells can be kept for about six weeks. Platelets have a storage time of only five days. Plasma can be frozen, which means that blood banks can hold onto it for one year.

Myth #9: The American Red Cross is the only organization for blood donation.

The American Red Cross is a major contributor to the blood supply, but it’s not the only organization involved. Red Cross donations make up about 40% of blood stores in the U.S. 

Other national organizations include America’s Blood Centers and Blood Centers of America. The Armed Services Blood Program handles blood donation and distribution for the military.

In addition, there are various regional blood centers throughout the country. The industry organization AABB maintains a list of blood centers and offers an interactive tool for finding facilities in your local area.

Myth #10: I can’t give blood, so I can’t contribute.

Per the Red Cross, less than 38% of Americans meet the qualifications for blood donation. But that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook for helping out if you’re not able to donate blood. There are other ways to contribute to this life-saving endeavor.

Blood drives require manpower. You can volunteer to make reminder calls, perform temperature screenings, answer questions or transport blood donations. You might even want to organize a blood drive through an organization in your community.

Financial resources are needed as well. You can make cash donations or assist with fundraising efforts. 

There are plenty of ways to help even without giving blood yourself. But if you can donate, consider taking part in this life-saving effort. Contact a local blood collection organization for more information.