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January 23, 2019

Everything you need to know about donating blood for the first time

Plus, where to do so in Philadelphia

Volunteering Blood Drives
blood-test-tubes-flickr Hey Paul/Flickr

In case you missed it, the American Red Cross issued an emergency appeal for blood and platelet donations in January. The shortage reportedly stems from the holiday season, when the organization collected about 27,000 less blood and platelet donations than needed. That said, the Red Cross can always use some extra blood.

In view of the shortage,  PhillyVoice has put together a guide to donating blood for the first time, plus where to do it in Philadelphia. By the way, your blood donation can help save up to three lives, according to the Red Cross:


• You must be at least 16 years old in most states

• You must weigh at least 110 pounds

• You have not donated blood in 56 days

• You must be in good health and feeling well


If you’re an adult who has never donated blood, your experience will go more smoothly with some preparation. Give yourself about an hour from start to finish. The main things to do are get a good night's sleep, hydrate (like, a lot), eat a healthy meal and a TON of iron (spinach, eggs, fruit, nuts, beans), and wear comfy clothes — you’ll need to roll your shirt above your elbow. There may be free food in the waiting area, so have a snack. This advice is coming from a Red Cross worker who has an admittedly irrational fear of needles

RELATED READ: American Red Cross issues emergency call for blood donors


You’ll begin by registering to donate blood. You’ll need a driver’s license or two other forms of identification to present at registration. For repeat donors, bring a donor card if you have one. You will then be asked to disclose any prescribed medications that you’re currently taking and undergo a mini-physical including an overview of your health history, blood pressure exam, pulse check and test of your hemoglobin level (via a finger stick). 

Once it’s time for the blood to be taken, a trained healthcare professional will show you to a chair or bed where the blood draw will begin. A sterile needle is inserted in the bend of your elbow for 8-10 minutes for the collection of one pint of blood.

Afterward, the needle will be removed from your arm and you’ll get a bandage to stop any bleeding. Keep it on for at least five hours. If you start to bleed, raise your arm above the head and apply pressure until it stops. The area may bruise, too. If it hurts, apply ice during the first 24 hours. After that, try warm, moist heat. If you experience dizziness or lightheadedness, sit or lie down until you feel better. Avoid activities where fainting may lead to injury for at least 24 hours. If you’re really not doing well, contact the donation center or your doctor.


After a short rest in the recovery area, and you are able to stand, you’ll likely be treated with light refreshments — juice and cookies, perhaps — to help you recover. Continue drinking tons of liquids throughout the day — about four extra glasses of water — and avoid intense exercise for the rest of the day.

Your donation is kept on ice before being taken to a Red Cross center for processing and the test tubes go to the lab. At the processing center, information about your donation is scanned into a computer database. Most whole blood donations are spun in centrifuges for separation into transfusable components: red cells, platelets, and plasma. Here, red cells and platelets are leuko-reduced, which means your white cells are removed in order to reduce the possibility of the recipient having a reaction to the transfusion, according to the Red Cross. From there, your blood donation is stored and distributed as needed. 


There are a few reasons why a person should not donate blood at a particular time. Some make perfect sense; others are slightly more obscure.

Of course, if you have a cold or flu, sexually transmitted disease or are pregnant, you should probably sit out donation. Also, if you’ve gotten a tattoo in the past year or if you’ve traveled to certain malaria-risk countries, take certain medications or have low iron, your donation might not be approved. 


No, you do not need to know your blood type in order to donate. The Red Cross needs every blood type to ensure a sufficient supply for all patients. But type O-positive and O-negative blood donors are especially needed since type O-positive is the most transfused blood type and can be transfused to Rh-positive patients of any blood type.


Help the Red Cross increase its blood supplies. Find the closest location to you by entering your zip code here and you can schedule an appointment convenient for you.

If you have any lingering questions about blood donation, feel free to reach out to the Red Cross — or peruse this Reddit thread that's full of tips and tricks for first-timers. 
What advice do you have for a nervous first time blood donor? from r/AskReddit

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