Blood Donation

Also known as Giving Blood, Donating Blood, Blood Drive, Apheresis
Volunteer blood donation is a safe and simple procedure that involves a donor giving one of the following blood products: whole blood, red blood cells, plasma, or platelets.
Overview

Volunteers donate all blood products used for transfusions performed in the United States to help people who are ill or injured, or who need blood for other reasons. Some volunteers undergo a procedure called apheresis that removes only the red blood cells, plasma, platelets, or certain types of white blood cells. Some people donate stem cells through apheresis for relatives or other people who need blood and bone marrow transplants. A person can also have his or her own blood collected and stored a few weeks before surgery in case it is needed.

Most places require you to be in good health, be at least 16 years old, and weigh at least 110 pounds to donate blood. There is no upper weight limit. You cannot donate blood if you are pregnant or have certain conditions, such as HIV or sickle cell disease. If you have sickle cell trait, you may donate platelets, but you should not donate whole blood as it will interfere with later steps involved in handling the donated blood. You may need to wait before you can donate if, among other reasons, you have anemia, are taking antibiotics, have a cold or the flu, or received a blood transfusion within the past year.

Blood donations can occur at a blood bank, special blood donation center, mobile facilities, or a hospital. Sometimes blood donations occur during special events called blood drives. The time it takes to donate blood from start to finish varies based on the type of blood donation; for example, it takes about 1 hour to complete a plasma or whole blood donation and about 2 to 3 hours for a platelet donation obtained by apheresis

All donated blood products are carefully tested and then stored or shipped so they are ready for patients who need a blood transfusion. You can donate whole blood as often as every 8 weeks. Or, certain donors can undergo red blood cell apheresis to donate two units of red blood cells, which is twice as many as in whole blood donation, every 16 weeks. At the NIH Blood Bank, men can donate AB plasma and men and women can donate platelets by apheresis every 4 weeks.

Most healthy adults can donate blood without experiencing any side effects. Some people experience dizziness or nausea after donating blood. To help prevent these complications, you may be asked to sit for 15 minutes after donating blood. You may also be given something to eat or drink during this time. Additionally, because donating whole blood or red blood cells removes iron from the body, these donors need to make sure they get enough iron from food or supplements.

Visit Blood Transfusion and Donation for more information about this topic.

Research for Your Health

The NHLBI is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Institutes of Health (NIH)—the Nation’s biomedical research agency that makes important scientific discovery to improve health and save lives. We are committed to advancing science and translating discoveries into clinical practice to promote safe blood donation and transfusion. Learn about current and future NHLBI efforts to improve health through research and scientific discovery.

Improving health with current research
- Blood Donation

Learn about the following ways the NHLBI continues to translate current research to improve blood donation practices and ensure the adequacy and safety of the Nation’s blood supply. Research on this topic is part of the NHLBI’s broader commitment to advancing blood disorders and blood safety scientific discovery.

  • Protecting Blood Donors and Blood Transfusion Recipients. The NHLBI started the Recipient Epidemiology and Donor Evaluation Study (REDS) program in 1989 to protect the Nation’s blood supply from threats, improve the benefits of transfusions, and reduce the risks of transfusions. REDS is the largest multi-center research program of its kind in the United States, and after 30 years, it is entering a new, important phase which aims to evaluate and improve the safety and effectiveness of transfusion therapies with attention to not only adults but also understudied populations including newborns and children.
  • Enhancing the Safety of Donated Blood. Our research has helped ensure that the vast majority of blood transfusions are effective and cause no harm. Important contributions include new methods to test donated blood for viruses such as HIV, hepatitis B and C, and arboviruses such as Zika virus. The NHLBI actively participates in the FDA-led Transfusion-Transmissible Infections Monitoring System, which is an integrated, comprehensive monitoring system for infections, such as HIV, in U.S. blood donations. The system allows researchers to evaluate trends in infection risks, as well as the impact—if any—of changing donor screening deferral policies. The NHLBI also continues to support research to watch for potential emerging threats to our Nation’s blood supply and find new ways to improve blood donation, as well as storage and use of blood products. Visit Blood Safety for more information.
  • Blood Donation as an Opportunity for Screening for Cardiovascular Risk Factors. We are supporting a research project looking into the idea of testing donors’ blood for high blood cholesterol and high blood sugar, which are risk factors for ischemic heart disease and other cardiovascular conditions. For the study, the researchers test donors’ blood and check their blood pressure and then deliver the results to the donors along with information promoting healthy lifestyle changes.
  • Improving the Blood Donation Experience. In 2015, we sponsored a meeting on the State of the Science in Transfusion Medicine. The meeting participants identified important issues for future research, such as preventing injuries and low blood pressure after blood donation, changing the interview process to make it easier for donors while protecting blood safety, and studying the effects of blood and iron loss during donation.
  • Researching Ways to Maximize Benefits of Donated Blood Products. Our Production Assistance for Cellular Therapies (PACT) program aids investigators in developing new cellular therapies by providing assistance with manufacturing, safety testing, product testing, and clinical testing protocols.

Learn about some of the pioneering research contributions we have made over the years that have improved blood donation.

Advancing research for improved health
- Blood Donation

In support of our mission, we are committed to advancing blood donation research in part through the following ways.

  • We perform research. Our Division of Intramural Research and its Hematology Branch, Sickle Cell Branch and Sickle Cell Program include some of the investigators at the NHLBI who are actively engaged in research on blood disorders and blood safety.
  • We fund research. The research we fund today will help improve our future health. Our Division of Blood Diseases and Resources supports the creation and production of blood-focused treatments and also funds the discovery of new blood and cell-based products in lab-based research and their evaluation in clinical trials. Search the NIH RePORTer to learn about research the NHLBI is funding on blood donation.
  • We stimulate high-impact research. The NHLBI Strategic Vision highlights ways we may support research over the next decade.

Learn about exciting research areas the NHLBI is exploring to improve blood donation and the safety of donated blood products.

Participate in NHLBI Clinical Trials

We lead or sponsor many studies relevant to blood donation. See if you or someone you know is eligible to participate in our clinical trials or observational studies.

[At NIH Clinical Center] Blood and bone marrow transplant donors

This study is testing ways to reduce complications of blood and bone marrow transplants, which are used to treat some people who have serious blood disorders. Donors receive doses of a growth factor to increase the number of stem cells in their blood. Then, the donor has an apheresis procedure for removing the stem cells. The researchers are testing different processing steps after the donation to see how the stem cells and other cell types are affected. To participate, you must be between the ages of 18 and 60, and you need to meet certain health requirements for donors. This study is located in Bethesda, Maryland.

[At NIH Clinical Center] Healthy blood and bone marrow donors

This study is screening healthy participants who are willing to donate blood samples or who have apheresis procedures. Eligible donors may be asked to provide blood products for studies of blood disorders or to donate stem cells for people who are having a bone marrow transplant. To participate, you must be at least 18 years old and meet certain health requirements for donors. This study is located in Bethesda, Maryland.

Would you like to donate blood for a study of stored red blood cells?

This study is evaluating how blood donors affect the stability of stored red blood cells. After collecting a blood sample from a healthy donor, researchers treat the red blood cells with a B vitamin called biotin and then store the sample. After about 1 week, some of the cells are transfused back into the donor to check how many of the red blood cells are still healthy after storage. After a few more weeks, more of the stored cells are transfused and tested again. To participate, your blood must meet certain requirements and you must be healthy, 18 years old or older, and weigh at least 110 pounds. This study is located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

More Information

After reading our Blood Donation Health Topic, you may be interested in additional information found in the following resources.

Non-NHLBI resources
- Blood Donation

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