September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month, a great time to consider how you can make a difference for people struggling to stay healthy with these difficult conditions. Organizations like the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society are doing a series of blood drives for patients, as well as sponsored running events for athletes who want to support their research financially.

While there are blood drives happening all over the country this month, blood donation is an option year-round. You can make a difference for just a few hours once, or contribute blood every couple months. We’ve outlined everything you need to know about making blood donation a smooth and pleasant experience, as well as some of the benefits you might experience.

Who Can Donate?

Many adults and some teenagers are able to donate blood. People who are not feeling well, taking certain medications or with blood-borne illnesses can’t donate, and all blood donation centers are required to test all blood. If you have traveled to certain international locations, you may not be eligible to donate either, depending on the region and how recently you returned. 

Before donating, blood donation centers and blood drives do a platelet and iron check to make sure the donor is not anemic at the time of donation. The American Red Cross also requires that blood donors weigh at least 110 Ibs. 

Photo Taken In Chiang Rai, Thailand

Where to Donate

American Red Cross and other charity organizations often do blood drives on campuses, community centers, or at public events as well, so keep an eye out for those opportunities. Since September is Blood Cancer Awareness month, there are sometimes special events for leukemia and lymphoma patients in particular.

American Red Cross collects 40% of the US blood supply, but because only 7% of people donate yearly, they sometimes still struggle to meet their goals. Donating just once a year to American Red Cross during one of their mobile drives can be a highly effective way to make a difference.

Most major hospitals and some local clinics or businesses have built in blood donation centers, so a search of where you can donate in your local area can reveal all your options. At both hospitals and blood donation centers there are usually options for regular whole blood donation as well as more sophisticated procedures like plasma donation. Most hospitals and blood donation centers have options for becoming a regular donor that can expedite the process and many are well set up to make the experience pleasant with comfortable seating. Blood donation centers and blood drives provide juice and snacks for recovery.

How To Make Donating Easier

With some preparation, donating blood can be an enjoyable process and you get to eat cookies afterward. Even though donating blood can sometimes cause fainting or discomfort, this can usually be avoided with some preparation. Eating a good meal the night before and a good breakfast the day can make recovery easier. One of the most important ways to keep blood donations easy is to drink water beforehand. It’s a simple fix, but drinking 16 oz of water reduces the likelihood of fainting by 20%. Water the night before and the day of as well as good sleep the night before can make the process much easier.

Blood donation centers will always test iron levels and platelet count before accepting an individual’s blood to make sure the donor isn’t anemic.  Low iron the day of a donation raises the risk of fainting during blood donation and can cause a donor to be turned away if the iron count is low enough, so try to make sure iron levels are high. The best way to do this is to consistently eat a healthy iron-rich diet. Cooking in a cast iron pan or eating red meat, eggs, or leafy greens will increase iron levels in your blood. Menstruating women may also be more likely to be anemic, so choosing a different time of the month to donate can be a better choice for some. It is not recommended to donate blood during pregnancy. The American Red Cross also recommends some regular donors—especially younger people—consider taking an 18mg iron supplement.

Steps During Donating

When you donate, you’ll first present a form of ID, fill in a questionnaire on family history, health history and travel, have your blood checked for sufficient iron and platelets, and be weighed in.

The blood draw process itself takes about 10 minutes. It begins with a sterile needle inserted in your arm, which feels like a pinprick, then a whole pint of blood is drawn. It’s best to just kick back and relax during this time. Often blood donation centers have movies and music, or you can chat with other donors.

After donation time is over, you will have juice and snacks for recovery and your arm will be bandaged up. At that point if you are experiencing dizziness or discomfort health professionals can help you recover or allow you to recline flat until you feel better.

After that, your part in the blood draw is over. Your blood will be tested and you may receive a blood donor card in the mail afterward.

Blood Type

Per the American Red Cross people of all blood types can donate blood and all blood types are encouraged to donate. However, people with O negative blood  are the most sought after for blood donations, because they are considered the universal donors—people whose blood type are accepted by all other blood types.

However blood types are needed to meet volume goals each year, so regardless of your blood type, donating makes a difference. Donating platelets can also help as they are often in short supply.

After donating you can learn your blood type by getting a blood donor card or by creating a profile on the American Red Cross blood donor app.

Benefits of Donating Blood

We are highlighting benefits of donating blood for World Blood Cancer day, and people with leukemia—including children—often depend on blood donations from volunteers to survive. However, patients with other chronic diseases, heart surgery patients and people in traumatic accidents also rely on these lifesaving donations. One pint of whole blood can be divided into four components that can end up saving multiple lives, so a blood donation truly is the gift of life.

There are several health benefits associated with donating blood. For one thing, all types of volunteering are associated with improved mental health. Donating blood only takes between 45 min and 2 hours, and making it a regular thing can be an easy way to make a difference for just a few hours a month. 

Additionally, there may be physical benefits to donating blood. Repeated blood donations—especially if one stays hydrated—are associated with lowering blood viscosity, a measure associated with improved cardiovascular health. One study even found that donating 1-2 pints of blood four times a year was associated with lower blood pressure.
Take our quiz for more information on the benefits of donating blood.