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How to donate blood, even if you're squeamish

It's not as scary as it seems.

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A single blood donation can save up to three lives. 

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If you're looking for a simple, free and relatively painless way to make a difference, donating blood is one of the best ways to help people. Especially as winter approaches and more people fall ill, hospitals and blood banks rely on blood donations to save lives. 

According to the American Red Cross, blood donations save the lives of children and adults struggling with cancer, traumatic accidents, blood disorders and other health issues every day. And the need for blood donations is extremely high; the American Red Cross estimates that someone is in need of a blood transfusion every 2 seconds in the US. And just a single donation can help save up to three people's lives. 

Keep reading for more information on how to donate blood, find out if you are eligible to give, and what you can expect in the process.

Who can donate blood?

In general, most healthy adults can give blood, but there are some requirements that you must meet to donate. Typically this means you have to be at least 17 years old, in good health and feel well at the time of donation and weigh at least 110 pounds. (The weight requirement can change slightly based on your height, age, and if you are male or female.)

Even though every blood type is needed for donation, some blood types are more in-demand than others. O-negative blood is one of the most needed types since it can be transfused to anyone with any blood type. Type AB plasma blood is also in high demand since it can be transfused to people with all other blood types.

What can disqualify you from giving blood?

Some chronic health conditions and medications can interfere with your eligibility to donate, which you can read more about in detail here.

 Some conditions and factors that can disqualify you include but are not limited to:

  • If you are taking an antibiotic for an infection.
  • If you are taking Accutane.
  • If you are taking blood thinners such as Coumadin. 
  • If you are pregnant.
  • If you have or suspect you're at risk for developing HIV/AIDS.
  • If you've gotten a tattoo within the last 12 months. 

If you are currently unable to give blood, you can still become involved by volunteering at a blood drive or local blood bank, or donating money to help sponsor a drive.

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How to find a place to donate

If you'd like to donate blood, you can begin by searching online for blood drives in your area. The American Red Cross has a database of blood drives in the US that you can check. There are also a few blood donation apps that can help you find a place to donate. Blood drives are also often held at local community organizations, hospitals and churches. 

What you can expect during the donation process

Most blood drives and blood banks will set certain hours for taking donations and will request that you make an appointment in advance. However, walk-ins are usually welcome so if you see an open donation center or blood drive and show up without an appointment, most centers will not turn you away.

Once you decide to donate blood and have scheduled an appointment with a donation center, you can plan to stay for about an hour. The blood donation procedure does not take that long, but you will have to answer some questions about your health history and fill out some paperwork before you begin. You will also undergo a finger-prick test to check your iron levels. If they are low, you won't be able to donate that day. 

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The blood donation process is relatively quick and simple.

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If you're afraid of needles and don't like to see blood, don't worry. Know that the needle stick only lasts a second, and you don't have to look while the blood is being drawn. While the blood donation process is quite simple and quick, here are some more tips to make the process more comfortable. 

Tips for making the donation process easier

  • If you recently had blood drawn for a test and remember where the nurse was able to easily draw blood, it will be helpful to tell the phlebotomist (the person that's taking your donation) where your blood was drawn (i.e. on your left or right arm).
  • Stay warm: Keeping your body warm makes it easier to see the veins in your arms (which reduces the chance you'll have to be stuck with a needle more than once).
  • Hydrate: Be sure to drink plenty of water and fluids before you give blood. Staying hydrated makes donating blood easier since you'll feel better and your veins will look plumper (making it easier for the phlebotomist to see them).

What to expect after you give blood

Right after you give blood, you'll be encouraged to sit down and have a snack. It's important to rest for at least 10 minutes while your body recovers from giving blood. The snack will help stabilize your blood sugar, and you should also drink extra fluids to hydrate and help you recover. 

You should be able to resume your normal activities afterward, but if you feel a bit weak or faint, you'll need to sit and rest until you feel able to leave. The American Red Cross also encourages blood donors to avoid vigorous activity, exercise and alcohol for 24 hours after giving blood. 


The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.