Many potential volunteers have misgivings but there’s really nothing to fear
There is no doubt that more of us should be donating blood. An integral part of the healthcare system, donor blood is used across a broad array of medical procedures and has saved numerous lives. The NHS in England requires around6,000 donations every day, or 200,000 new registered donors every year.
For the most part, the UK has just enough supply to match demand. However, with only around 4% of the population donating blood on a regular basis, it is clear there is no room for complacency. The more of us who donate, the better.
Only certain people are eligible to give blood though. As a general rule, you need to be fit and healthy, to weigh over 50kg, and be aged between 17 and 66 (up to 70 if you have given blood before).
There are other caveats in place too, designed to ensure the donation harms neither you nor the recipient. For instance, you cannot give blood if you have recently come into contact with an infectious disease, if you have had a tattoo within the last four months, or if you have received a blood donation yourself since 1980. See http://www.blood.co.uk for further information.
For those who are eligible, however, there may be other sticking points. Many people, for instance, have fears about the procedure itself, while others are worried about the effects it may have on their health. We asked Donna Cullen, consultant nurse at NHS Blood and Transplant, to talk us through some common concerns that may stand in the way of giving blood.
- It’s virtually painless
The very idea of a needle is enough to make many people squeamish, still more a needle that remains in your vein for five minutes or more. However, if you can get past these misgivings, it is reassuring to know the process is virtually painless. As Donna explains:
“While there may be some initial discomfort on needle insertion, this should quickly resolve and the rest of the donation be pain-free. In my experience, once donors have completed their first donation, they are comfortable with the blood donation process as they know what to expect.”
- Most donors feel fine afterwards
During a blood donation, 470ml (just under one pint) of your blood is collected. This is a safe level designed to bring about no ill effects. According to Donna, the majority of donors feel fine after giving blood, with a minority experiencing temporary faintness or dizziness:
“Occasionally a donor may report feeling fatigued, light headed or nauseous. All donors are advised to restrict activities that could bring about these symptoms for at least 24-48 hours post donation to avoid feeling unwell – for example, not drinking alcohol, not partaking in strenuous exercise, avoiding hot saunas and baths,” she says.
- Eating beforehand is important
For the most part, you can ensure a positive experience simply by following the advice available. NHS Blood and Transplant provides ‘Prepare to Donate‘ information, which is available both on its website and at donation sessions. As Donna explains:
“We recommend that donors eat regular meals, get a good night’s sleep and drink plenty of non-alcoholic fluids 24 hours before donating. Donors are provided with a drink and snack immediately after their donation and encouraged to stay and rest for a short while to ensure they are feeling fit and well before they leave.”
- You can donate more than once a year
If you are eligible and pass the donation criteria, men can donate every 12 weeks and women every 16 weeks. This works out at just over four times a year for men, three times a year for women.
- Gym-addicts don’t need to worry
If you’re a competitive athlete approaching race season, you may be advised to wait a while, as the body’s haemoglobin levels (the protein that transfers oxygen from your lungs to your muscles) do not return to normal for several weeks. However, for the vast majority of recreational athletes and gym-goers, this should not be an abiding concern.
“NHS Blood and Transplant discourages strenuous exercise for 24 hours pre and post donation. After this time, normal levels and frequency of activities can resume,” says Donna.
- There could be some surprising health benefits
Over the years, various studies have suggested that donating blood can actually be good for a person’s long-term health. Because blood donations keep the body’s iron levels in check, regular donors may lower their risk of strokes and heart disease, or (more contentiously) cancer. But as Donna explains, due to limited empirical research available, this is not something NHS Blood and Transplant is able to comment on:
“There are known long term health benefits for donors with particular diagnosed medical conditions, for example haemochromotosis. While some people believe blood donation can offer broader health benefits, this is predominantly anecdotal,” she says.
However, irrespective of any other health benefits, we can be clear that blood donors should feel immensely proud.
“Many donors tell us that they feel a ‘buzz’ or good feeling after giving blood, knowing their donation will make a difference to others,” Cullen says.
To register, or book an appointment, go online at www.blood.co.uk or call 0300 123 23 23. Alternatively, search ‘NHSGiveBlood’ in the app store to find and book sessions.
This article appears on Netdoctor