Can I Give Blood?
Millions of Americans are eligible to give blood, but many of them don’t know it. At the same time, the need for blood is high. More than 21 million units of blood components are transfused each year. These two circumstances have led to a major blood shortage. In fact, the American Red Cross has declared a national blood crisis for the first time in its 140-year history.
Please review the basic eligibility criterial below to see if you’re eligible. You have to be:
- Healthy. As long as you don’t have any cold or flu symptoms and you have adequate iron in your blood, you are eligible from a health standpoint. A slight scratchy throat, for instance, does not disqualify you. If you have had COVID, you are eligible to give as soon as you have recovered. A brief medical exam in advance of your donation will ensure you are well enough to give.
- At least 17 and at least 110 lbs., though people age 16 and who meet the weight minimum can donate blood with their parents’ consent in some states.
- More than 56 days away from your last blood donation. For your own safety, it is important to wait the appropriate amount of time between donations.
There are a few things that disqualify a person who meets the criteria above from donating:
- If you have traveled outside the U.S. within the past 3 years, you may have to answer additional questions about where you traveled and how. The concerns relate to diseases that are common in other parts of the world, like malaria, variant Creutzfeld Jacob Disease (“Mad Cow” Disease), the zika virus, and ebola.
- If you take some specific medications, you may not be eligible. There are just a handful of medications that make people ineligible and others that require the person who takes them wait a period of time before donating.
- If you have questions, a complete list of all of the conditions of eligibility criteria is at https://www.redcrossblood.org/donate-blood/how-to-donate/eligibility-requirements/eligibility-criteria-alphabetical.html
Some myths about eligibility persist. For instance, some people believe that you can’t donate if you have a tattoo. This is false. Those who got tattooed at an unregulated shop should wait 3 months before donating blood.
If you are eligible, find a drive at https://www.redcrossblood.org/give.html/find-drive and donate as soon as you can. If everyone who was eligible gave, there would be an abundant supply of blood for all of the people who need it, including cancer patients, trauma and burn victims, people who have had a major surgery, and others.
If you think you’re eligible and learn that you are not at your blood donation appointment, that’s OK. Blood collection organizations are very grateful for the time and interest and will share information you can use to give blood as soon as you are eligible.
If you’re not eligible, that’s OK too. There are lots of other ways to help, including volunteering to help with a blood drive.
Thinking about your eligibility and making the effort to give blood is a crucial neighborly act that ensures that our hospitals have the blood they need to care for patients.
Angela Theiss, MD, is a pathologist the Pathology department at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, part of Southwestern Vermont Health Care, in Bennington.