14 June 2018

This is how easy it is to donate blood

Want to donate blood, but not sure how the process works? We spoke to the Western Province Blood Transfusion Services to explain the process step-by-step.

Donating blood is one of the few ways you can help save the lives of others, especially with stocks regularly running low.

According to the South African National Blood Service, blood stocks are running critically low, especially O Positive, and O Negative, which have 2.5 and 2.6 days worth of stock left, respectively.

Many people shy away at the thought of needles, but if you look at the broader picture, the benefits far outweigh the discomfort of a tiny needle prick.

Sister Kim Strutt, clinic co-ordinator of the Western Province Blood Transfusion Services (WPBTS), details the process of an ordinary blood donation.

Step 1:

The first step is filling out a confidential questionnaire.

The questionnaire helps give the nurses at hand a general idea about your health. Your answers determine whether the coordinators should proceed with the blood donation or not. This questionnaire protects you and the recipient from any possible harm.

Step 2:

Once the questionnaire is completed and accepted, a finger-prick test is done, and your haemoglobin levels (iron) are checked. According to Sister Strutt, “This needs to be 12.5 for women and 13.5 for men.”

If your iron levels are too low, you may be suffering from an iron deficiency or anaemia. If your iron levels are too low, you will not be able to donate. (Donating blood is a great way to gain insight into your health.)

Step 3:

If your haemoglobin levels are fine, your blood pressure is then measured. “If all is good to go, blood donation process goes ahead, taking about 10 minutes to complete,” says Sister Strutt.

Step 4:

According to a study by the American Psychological Association, the act of donating blood is one of benevolence, formerly described as an act of altruism. Once your donation is complete, you will be rewarded with a cookie and some juice. You may experience some lightheadedness or fatigue after the donation, caused by a loss of haemoglobin. The refreshments help to counter this. 

What happens next? 

One unit may seem very little, but when a unit is processed and divided into compartments, it can go a long way. Blood compartments can be divided into platelet concentrates, red blood concentrates, cryoprecipitate and plasma.

According to Dr Phillip DeChristopher from Loyola University, “If blood has a high viscosity, or resistance to flow, it will flow like molasses.” By donating, your blood will be able to flow better, apply less pressure on your arteries and thus reduce arterial damage. It also helps to regulate the iron levels within your blood and protect your arteries from damage.

When you donate blood, you only donate 475ml, which equals one unit. You’re only allowed to donate one unit every 56 days. 

Image credit: iStock