Everything You Need To Know About Blood Donation

Circular 'I Donated Blood Today' stickers

January marks National Blood Donor Month and as someone who has had it on her to do list for way longer than I can remember, I wanted to remind myself and you lovely lot just how important blood donation is.

I am one of only 2% of the UK population who has the blood group B Rhesus negative (I always knew I was special 😉 ), which means there is an even bigger reason for me to donate blood. If the shoe was on the other foot, it would be good to know that there was a decent supply of my blood type should I ever need it!

Here’s everything you need to know about blood donation:

What Are The Different Blood Groups?

There are 8 different blood groups in total: A, B, AB, and O all of which are further divided into either Rh-positive or Rh-negative, so for example you could be A negative, AB positive or O negative etc. The most common blood group in the UK is O positive with 36% and the rarest is AB negative with just 1% of the population having this particular type of blood running through their veins. Scientists are continually doing research into the different blood groups and whether certain blood types are more at risk of contracting certain diseases. You may have also heard of the Blood Group Diet whereby it is suggested that you eat certain foods and avoid others depending on what blood group you are.

The difference between blood groups is basically to do with the number of antigens contained within it. Some of these antigens are compatible with one another, so for example O blood can be used in blood transfusions for people with either A or B blood groups as it contains neither A nor B antigens. But a person who has B blood should not receive A blood, as this causes the body’s immune system to start attacking what is essentially ‘alien’ red blood cells and can be life threatening to the patient.

It’s all incredibly confusing and unless you’ve done a degree in biology I don’t expect you to fully get the science behind it. What I can do however is point you in the right direction of a great resource from Smart Cells who have put together a Guide to Blood Donations and Collections which will help you understand more about the various blood groups and the how’s and why’s of blood donation in the UK.

Who Can Donate Blood?

Most adults are eligible to give blood. You can donate blood in the UK if you:

  • are fit and healthy
  • weigh between 7 stone 12 lbs (50kg) – 25 stone (160kg)
  • are aged between 17 – 66
  • are over 70 and have given blood in the last two years

However, there are some exceptions and if you are in any doubt it is worth speaking to your GP beforehand. Seek an expert opinion if you are:

  • currently receiving any medical treatment
  • pregnant or there is a possibility that you are pregnant
  • have recently had a tattoo or piercing
  • have received blood yourself.

Where Can I Donate Blood?

The doctor’s seems the obvious answer right? But you can’t just rock up to your GP surgery and demand they take a pint of your best red stuff!

There are 23 permanent blood donation venues located in various towns and cities across England, You can go online and book yourself an appointment for a time that is convenient to you. Alternatively, there are temporary blood donations that pop up at various venues around the country, such as in community centres, village halls, sports centres, church halls or even as mobile units. Find out more information about where you can go to give blood.

Does It Hurt?

Come on you wusses, chances are you’ve experienced way more pain than what a little prick on the arm is going to inflict upon you! Sure you’re going to feel it, but it’s not childbirth for crying out loud. The needle thing? Well yeah obviously that’s never good, but if it bothers you that much don’t watch it going in, take a friend for company, or take a good book or listen to some music to help take your mind off it. It only takes roughly 10-15 minutes, so seriously it’s not that big a deal. Wo(man) up and think happy thoughts!

Is It Safe?

Health and safety is crucial when giving blood, both for the donor and to ensure the blood taken isn’t compromised. Before you are allowed to give blood you must first complete a health check to ensure you fit the relevant criteria (see ‘Who Can Give Blood?’ above).

Sterile and disposable equipment is used for each and every donor, so there is no risk of cross contamination, and staff are fully trained to carry out the simple procedure. It is advisable to drink plenty of fluids before you go along to your appointment, as well as eating a decent meal. You may be offered a drink and a biscuit after you have donated blood, because sometimes people may feel lightheaded, this also means it is important not to get up too quickly afterwards and to take things steady for the rest of the day.

Some people are concerned that by giving away some of their blood, it will deplete their own levels and thus put them at risk of becoming ill. This is not the case however, as a healthy body regenerates 1 pint of blood (plasma) within 48 hours and between 4 to 8 weeks it will also have replaced the red blood cells.

What Does Donated Blood Get Used For?

Put simply – blood donation saves lives. It is estimated that every year 200,000 new donors are needed to ensure that there is a constant supply of all of the different blood types needed.

Blood is made up of three components:

  • red cells
  • plasma
  • platelets

These components are used in different situations including; surgery patients, cancer patients, trauma patients, Leukaemia, burns victims, Sickle Cell Anaemia and many more. Unfortunately, like a pint of milk, blood does not have a particularly long shelf life and so top ups to supplies are always needed.

How Often Can I Donate Blood?

The average adult has between 8 and 12 pints of blood, and men are able to donate 1 pint of blood every 12 weeks and woman every 16 weeks if they wish. Ask your doctor or nurse for more information, or if you are concerned that a recent health problem may affect this.

I have only donated blood once, and I’ll be honest it’s because I simply haven’t got my bum into gear to find out information about where and when the temporary blood donor centres have been in my area. It’s a pathetic excuse and it’s one I’m going to address. I hope you do too.

* This post is collaborative with information provided in a press release.

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