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May 17, 2022

What you should know about donating plasma

Adult Health Blood

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Every year, millions of people need blood transfusions during surgery, after an accident, or due to disease — and donations are the only way they can get it.

The American Red Cross allows a person to donate blood every 28 days. If you’ve never considered donating blood before — or if it’s just been a little bit since you have — here are some important things to know:

Whole blood vs. plasma donation

Most of the time you give blood, about a pint of your blood is donated. After donation, your “whole blood” is separated into components: red cells, plasma, and platelets — a process called apheresis. Apheresis can also be done during donation if you prefer to only donate plasma.

Why is plasma donation important?

Plasma is the liquid portion of your blood. Plasma helps blood to clot and contains antibodies that fight off infection. Because it’s used commonly in emergency or trauma situations, it is vitally important.

Am I eligible to donate blood?

If you’re over the age of 16, weigh more than 110 pounds, and in good health, you’re likely eligible to donate plasma. People with type AB blood are particularly encouraged to consider a donation since AB is the only universal plasma that can be given to a patient with any blood type. Businesses, schools, and communities often run blood drives which make it easy to donate. You can also find a blood bank and donate directly! When you call to make your appointment, ask if there are any special requirements to be aware of.

What’s it like to donate?

Donating plasma takes only 45 to 60 minutes, and it’s easy. When you arrive, you’ll be asked some basic screening questions about your health. You’ll then be brought to a donation area where you lie down and a blood donation kit is used to withdraw blood from your arm. Following the donation, you’ll be allowed to stay at the donation center and enjoy some refreshments before you feel strong enough to leave.

How do I prepare?

Some people suffer from fatigue after donating blood. For this reason, it’s important to drink plenty of water before and after your donation. Be sure to also get a good night’s sleep before you donate and eat a nutritious meal. And one small tip: wear short sleeves to make the process more convenient.

Does COVID-19 impact donating plasma?

You should disclose to the center where you’re donating if you have had COVID-19 or may have been exposed recently. Because your plasma (convalescent plasma) in that case may contain antibodies, it can be specifically used to help treat those with severe COVID-19. The pandemic has made it harder for some areas to receive plasma donations, so it’s a good reason to make an appointment.

Donating blood is safe; all the equipment used is sterile, and the Federal Drug Administration specifically has a five-part safety protocol around donating blood. The people who receive your plasma get an amazing gift, but there are benefits in it for you, too.

When you donate plasma, you’ll learn some basic information about yourself such as your own blood type and iron levels. Donating as part of a community blood drive can be a fun activity, and there’s an important emotional and mental benefit, too: the knowledge that in just an hour, you may have helped save a life.

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