Overview of Mundane Blood Donation Process

Written by: SphynxCatVP
Link to original: http://sphynxcatvp.nocturna.org/articles/sc-donors-centeroverview.html

Tips for a Good Donation

  • Get a good night's sleep - losing blood will be tiring enough without sleep deprivation on top of it.
  • Eat a good meal at least 3 hours before donating.
  • Drink extra water and fluids to replace the volume you will donate - being well hydrated also makes it easier for them to FIND the vein to do the needlestick, and to draw the blood.
  • Avoid caffeinated beverages.
  • Eat iron-rich foods for 2 weeks prior in order to boost iron level (beef, spinach, whole grains, eggs, etc).
  • Avoid fatty/greasy foods for about 24-48hrs before donation (fatty materials negatively impact some tests).
  • Avoid smoking for at least 3 hour prior to donation.
  • If you are a platelet donor, your body must be free of asprin for 48hr prior to donation.
  • No alcohol for 48 hours before donation.


  • During registration you will be given general information about donating blood.
  • You'll be asked to complete a form with demographic and basic health information.
  • You'll be asked to show an ID card, generally a picture ID - this is for proof of age and to verify identity.
  • One of the staff will go over physical requirements with you - things like age, weight, etc.

Health History / Mini-Physical

  • Trained staff will ask you some health history questions during a confidential session.
  • You'll have your temperature, iron level, blood pressure, clotting ability, and pulse checked.
  • If you have allergies to, or get a rash from, iodine or other topical antiseptics, NOW is the time to say something!
  • You will be asked various questions about your state of health, prior/current illnesses, travel history, and possible sexual history. All answers are treated as confidential, and are required in order to determine whether your donation will be safe to use.
  • Further testing will be done via labs to ensure safety of the blood supply.
  • If you know which arm is easier to do the needlestick in, let them know.

Donation - Whole Blood (about 10-20 minutes)

  1. You sit in a recliner or lie on a cot with your arm extended on an armrest.
  2. A blood pressure cuff or tourniquet is placed around the upper arm to fill the veins with more blood and make them easier for the staff to see and insert the needle into. (This is a good thing, otherwise they play pokey pokey pokey with the needle, and that's never fun later....) This also helps the blood bag fill more quickly due to the pressure buildup.
  3. The skin on the inside of the elbow is cleaned with an antiseptic swab. (Hopefully you'll have mentioned if you're allergic to things like iodine?)
  4. A new, sterile needle is inserted into your arm. If you're squeamish about needles (I admit it, I am...as weird as that may sound to anyone reading this...) then don't watch.
  5. Once the needle is in place, you'll be asked to make a fist, then open and close your it a few times to get the blood flowing. Blood is collected both into a bag and into either several tubes (for testing) or one long tube with sections.
  6. It usually takes about 10 minutes to fill the bag. If this is your first time, you may feel faint, especially if you are very close to the minimum weight limit. When complete, the needle is removed and a small bandage is placed on the needle site and a dressing of some sort is wrapped around your arm.

Donation - Apheresis (about 1-2 hours)

Apheresis, an increasingly common procedure, is the process of removing a specific component of the blood, such as plasma, and returning the remaining components to the donor. During apheresis, blood is drawn from one arm and pumped through a machine that separates out a specific component, such as platelets. The rest of the blood is then returned through a vein in the other arm.

This process allows more of a single component to be collected, however it takes longer than standard whole blood donation - typically one to two hours. It's also extremely uncomfortable, even painful to some people, so at least some donation centers do pay people for their time to do this.

Blood Statistics

At a donation center, the amount usually taken is about a pint (approximately 470ml), and can take about 10-20 minutes. It takes 24-48 hours to replace the overall blood volume, but approximately 6 weeks to replace the actual red cells. A unit is roughly 45% red cells, roughly 55% plasma, and a very small proportion of platelets. An average size adult has 10-12 pints / 5 liters.

The approximate distribution of blood types in the United States blood donor population is as follows. Distribution may be different for specific racial and ethnic groups, in different parts of the country, and in other countries:

  • O Rh-positive --- 39 percent
  • O Rh-negative --- 9 percent
  • A Rh-positive --- 31 percent
  • A Rh-negative --- 6 percent
  • B Rh-positive --- 9 percent
  • B Rh-negative --- 2 percent
  • AB Rh-positive --- 3 percent
  • AB Rh-negative --- 1 percent

In an emergency, anyone can receive type O red blood cells, and type AB individuals can receive red blood cells of any ABO type. Therefore, people with type O blood are known as "universal donors," and those with type AB blood are known as "universal recipients." In addition, AB plasma donors can give to all blood types.

Aftercare / Refreshments

Avoid heavy lifting for the rest of the day - There is a risk that strenuous activity may cause wound to reopen, bleed into your arm, and give you a painful bruise.


  1. You sit in an observation area, where you relax and have a light snack (often something sugary for a quick energy boost.) Spend some time here to allow your body time to adjust to the slight decrease in fluid volume.
  2. After 10-15 minutes, as long as you do not exhibit signs of complications, you can leave.

For the next couple days:

  1. Drink extra fluids.
  2. Avoid strenuous activity or heavy lifting for the next 5+ hours.
  3. If you feel light-headed, lie down with your feet up until the feeling passes.
  4. If bleeding or bruising occurs, apply a cold pack to the area periodically during the first 24 hours.
  5. If your arm is sore, a pain reliever is often recommended such as Tylenol/acetaminophin. It's generally recommended to avoid asprin or ibuprofin (advil, motrin, etc) due to the risk of extra bleeding.
  6. Meals high in protein will help your body make blood faster.

Contact the donation center or your doctor if:

  1. You continue to feel nauseated, lightheaded or dizzy after resting, eating and drinking
  2. Notice a raised bump (especially if it's sore and red), continued bleeding or pain at the needle-stick site when you remove the banage. (Average clotting time is 5-7 minutes - bleeding should not take longer than this to stop, if it shows no sign of stopping after this point is when you need to contact someone.)
  3. Feel pain or tingling down your arm, and especially if it goes into your fingers.
  4. Become ill with signs and symptoms or a cold or flu, such as fever, headache or sore throat within the next four days. (Bacterial infections can be transmitted by your blood to a potential donor through transfusion, so it's important to let the donation center know if you become ill so that your blood won't be used.)