Once you’ve made the decision to donate blood, passed the physical, completed the paperwork and had your hemoglobin concentration okayed, you’re (finally) ready. Now what?
Get a good night’s sleep before you plan to donate and be sure to eat a healthy meal, too. Stay away from burgers, fries and ice cream before donating. In fact, should you decide to donate on a regular basis, a healthy diet in general is a good plan, one that includes iron-rich foods such as lean red meat, fish, poultry, beans, spinach and iron-fortified cereals. Remember to drink an extra 16 ounces of water and other fluids before you head for the donation center.
Tests for infections are run on all donated blood and these results can be affected by the fats that show up in your blood for several hours after you’ve eaten fatty foods. And if you are a platelet donor, your system must be completely free of aspirin for two days prior to donation; other than that, you can take your usual prescribed medications.
You will sit or lie in a reclining chair during the procedure, with your arm extended on an armrest for support. The skin on the inside of your elbow will be thoroughly cleaned. A blood pressure cuff or a tourniquet will be placed around your upper arm to make your veins easier to see and also to fill the veins with more blood. This upper arm pressure also helps fill the blood bag more quickly and makes it easier to insert the needle.
A brand new, sterile needle will be inserted into a vein in your arm, and this needle is attached to a thin plastic tube and a blood bag. You will be directed to tighten your fist a few times to help get the blood flowing once the needle is in place. The first blood is collected into tubes and reserved for testing. After this, blood will fill the bag (about a pint’s worth).
The actual collection process takes about ten minutes. Once you are done, the needle is removed; the needle site is then bandaged and a dressing is wrapped around your arm. You will be sent to an observation center for rest and a little snack. All being well, you should be on your way in about fifteen minutes.
Apheresis is another method of donating blood that is becoming more and more common. During this process, blood is drawn from one arm, pumped through a machine that separates out a particular component,such as platelets, and then the rest of the blood is returned through a vein in your other arm. More than a single component can be collected this way. It does take longer, however – an hour, maybe two hours, as opposed to about thirty minutes.
After your blood donation:
- Avoid strenuous physical activity and/or heavy lifting for the next five or six hours.
- Drink extra fluids for a day or two.
- Keep the bandage on your arm for at least four hours.
- If you feel dizzy or light-headed, lie down and elevate your feet. Stay down until the sensation passes.
- Should you experience bleeding after taking off the bandage, apply pressure to the wound site and raise that arm for three to five minutes.
- Should bleeding or bruising under the skin occur, apply a cold pack to the affected area on and off during the first 24 hours.
- If your arm is sore, take a pain reliever such as acetaminophen. Avoid taking aspirin or ibuprofen (such as Motrin, Advil and others). If you are not sure who contains what, check with the pharmacist.
- Notice a raised bump, continued bleeding and pain at the needle site once you have removed the bandage.
- Continue to feel sick to your stomach, light-headed or dizzy after resting, drinking and eating.
- Feel pain or tingling down your arm, into the fingers.
- Fall ill with symptoms and signs of the flu or a cold, such as sore throat, headache or fever. Bacterial infections can be carried by your blood to a potential donor via transfusion; it is important for the blood donor center to know you are ill so that your blood will not be used.