January 19, 2022
4 min. read

Donating Blood? Here Are 5 Ways to Prep


In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, The American Red Cross is facing a national blood crisis—the worst blood shortage in over a decade. Blood banks across the country are calling for people to donate blood to patients in need. Donating blood can save lives, and there is a constant need for a regular supply of blood because it can only be stored for a limited amount of time before use. Donating blood can be your way of helping to ensure that blood will always be available whenever and wherever it is needed.

But if you do decide to donate blood, you need to make sure, as with any tissue or blood donation, that doing so is safe. You can also help to minimize any adverse side effects from your donation by preparing properly and taking some necessary precautions before, during, and after your donation. Check out our tips below to ensure a safe, comfortable, and successful donation.

eligable blood donation

Know if You’re Eligible

To make a whole blood donation, you must be:

  • In good health
  • At least 16 or 17 years old, depending on the law in your state, though states will allow legal minors to donate with parent permission
  • At least 110 pounds
  • Able to pass the physical and health-history assessments

Consider Your Meds

Your eligibility to donate blood may be affected by certain medications you’re taking. While taking the following medications won’t disqualify you from donating blood forever, you may have to wait for a period of time after your last dose.

The following medications will prevent you from donating blood, at least temporarily:

  • Acne medications related to isotretinoin
  • Finasteride and dutasteride
  • Soriatane for psoriasis
  • Antiplatelet medications
  • Blood thinners
  • Growth hormone injections
  • Aubagio for multiple sclerosis

blood donation

Know What to Expect Before

Before you donate, you’ll be expected to fill out a confidential medical history. This will include questions about behaviors that are known to carry a higher risk of bloodborne infections—infections that are transmitted through the blood. Because of the risk of bloodborne infections, you will not be able to donate if you belong to a high-risk group.

You will also have a brief physical exam, which will include checking your blood pressure, pulse, and temperature. A small sample of blood will be taken via finger prick to check the hemoglobin level, ​​or oxygen-carrying component of your blood. If your hemoglobin concentration is normal and you’ve met all the other screening requirements, you can donate blood.

Know What to Expect During

While you donate blood, you’ll be asked to sit or recline with your arm extended on an armrest. Feel free to voice your arm preference, if you have one. A blood pressure cuff or tourniquet will be placed around your upper arm, which will help fill your veins with more blood. This will make the veins easier to see and easier to insert the needle into, and also helps fill the blood bag more quickly.

The skin on the inside of your elbow will be cleaned, and a new sterile needle will be inserted into a vein in your arm. You’ll be asked to tighten your fist several times to help the blood flow from the vein. After your blood is first collected into tubes for testing, your blood will be used to fill a bag, about a pint (about half a liter). This usually lasts for about ten minutes before the needle is removed and bandage and dressing is placed on your arm.

Nervous around needles? Let the practitioner know so they can accommodate you (trust us—they see this anxiety all the time, and probably have some great tips). Make sure to take deep breaths, look away if it helps, or try distracting yourself with music, something on your phone, or by talking to whoever is taking your blood. It may even help to remind yourself that you’re doing something good for someone else!

blood donation after

Know What to Expect After

Once you finish donating, you’ll be asked to sit in an observation area for 15 minutes while you rest and eat a light snack.

The following tips will help with any residual effects from your donation:

  • Stay well hydrated
  • Avoid strenuous physical activity or heavy lifting for about five hours after your donation
  • If you feel lightheaded, lie down with your feet up until the feeling passes
  • Keep your bandage on and dry for the next five hours
  • If you have bleeding after removing the bandage, put pressure on the site and raise your arm until the bleeding stops
  • If bruising occurs, apply a cold pack to the area periodically during the first 24 hours
  • Consider adding iron-rich foods to your diet to replace the iron lost with blood donation

If, after your donation, you realize you forgot to report any important health information, have signs and symptoms of an illness, such as a fever, within several days after your blood donation, or are diagnosed with COVID-19 within 48 hours after donating blood, be sure to contact both the blood donation center and your doctor.

Donating blood is a safe and simple way to provide help to people dealing with serious medical conditions. But even with the best of intentions, it’s still important to make sure that you take care of yourself and your health before, during, and after your donation. Eat and drink the right things, make sure to rest, and you’ll be able to reduce side effects, all while providing a much-needed resource to others in need.

Sources: 1. Red Cross National Blood Shortage Crisis. (n.d.). American Red Cross. 2. Miller, H. (2020, March 23). Blood donations needed during coronavirus pandemic. CNBC. 3. Blood products: Blood donation. (2020, June 10). World Health Organization. 4. Frequently Asked Questions. (n.d.). American Red Cross. 5. Whole Blood Donation. (n.d.). American Red Cross. 6. UCSF Health. (2021, June 16). Who Can Give Blood? Ucsfbenioffchildrens.Org.

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