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What you need to know about blood donation

An hour of your time could save three lives.

Every two seconds in the United States someone needs blood to survive. One in three people need a lifesaving transfusion during their lifetime. This need touches everyone—family, friends, neighbors, colleagues and the community.

Each blood donation has the potential to save 3 lives. It is a precious resource, but has a limited shelf life—only 5 days for platelets and 42 days for red blood cells. That’s why it takes 800 donors a day to maintain the blood supply for the 90 hospitals we support in the Northwest.

You can donate at a center, or at one of our many mobile drives. Your donation helps people having surgeries or organ transplants, or receiving treatment for trauma. People often receive transfusions during treatment for cancer and bleeding disorders.

What should you expect the first time you donate?

Donating blood is a safe and simple process. You’ll be asked to fill out a questionnaire about your health and travel history. Then you’ll meet a staff member for a short screening interview and quick physical examination. If you meet eligibility requirements, we’ll discuss the blood donation that best matches your blood type and current local needs.

The most common is a whole blood donation, which usually takes less than an hour in total. Or you can do apheresis donations of platelets, plasma, or double red cells–a process that takes about 90 – 120 minutes. Generally speaking, eligibility for donating platelet, plasma or double reds cell is the same as for whole blood. We can help you determine what type of donation will help patients most.

We want you to feel great after donating. Eat a healthy meal within four hours before you donate, and be sure to stay well hydrated with non-caffeinated fluids before and after donation. After donation, it is good to add iron-rich foods like meat, spinach and beans to your diet, or to take an dietary iron supplement.

How does the process work?

After you fill out the health history and meet with a staff member you’ll be advised about donation options for your blood type—whole blood, platelets, red cells or plasma. Then you can sit back and relax as we collect your donation. Whole blood donation usually takes less than one hour in total. Apheresis donations of platelets, plasma, or double red cells take about 90 – 120 minutes. After you’ve donated, you’ll be served a refreshment and snack, and be on your way.

Are you eligible to be a blood donor?

Who can donate?

In Washington, anyone who is in good health, at least 18 years old, and weighs at least 110 pounds may donate blood. In Oregon, anyone over 16 can donate. In Washington, high school students 16-17 who meet weight requirements can donate with a Bloodworks permission form signed by their parent or guardian. Weight requirements are: Males age 16-17 minimum weight 114 pounds; Females age 16-17 minimum weight 125 pounds.

There is no maximum age for blood donation.

Eligibility: Health Conditions & Medications

Some health conditions or medications may temporarily or permanently prevent someone from donating blood see a list of conditions and medications here.

If you have a question regarding your eligibility to donate blood and would like to discuss it with someone:

How long does it take to give blood?

The donation process includes registration, a brief medical screening, collection, and time for refreshments in the canteen. Whole blood donation usually takes less than one hour in total. Apheresis donations of platelets, plasma, or double red cells take about 90 – 120 minutes.

How much blood is taken?

Whole blood donations are approximately one pint. Apheresis donations also take about a pint of fluid; both weigh approximately one pound.

What are platelets?

Platelets, also known as thrombocytes, are cells that circulate throughout the blood to promote clotting.

How often can I give?

Whole blood donors may give once every 56 days – allowing plenty of time to replenish their red cells.

Apheresis platelet donors can donate once every 7 days, and up to 24 times per year — since platelets are replaced in the body quickly – usually returning to normal levels within a few hours of donating. Plasma can be donated once every 28 days, or up to 13 times a year. Double red cells can be donated every 112 days, or up to 3 times a year.

How much blood do I have in my body?

As a general rule, women have approximately 10 pints and men have approximately 12 pints of blood.

Is there a minimum or maximum age limit on donating blood?

In Washington, people over 18 can donate; minors who are 16 or 17 years old can donate with a Bloodworks permission form signed by their parent or guardian. In Oregon, anyone over 16 can donate. There is no upper age limit for donations.

Donor deferral, men who have sex with men (MSM)

In 2016 the FDA implemented new guidance to replace the lifetime ban on blood donation by MSM with a one year deferral period. That means men who have not had sexual contact with another man in the past 12 months can be eligible to donate blood. Updated donor screening procedures and questionnaires are in place; Bloodworks was among the first blood organizations in the U.S. to implement the new FDA guidelines.

For many years Bloodworks supported changing the lifetime ban on MSM donations — publicly, and with the FDA. The change is backed up by testing accuracy, reliability, and medical science. It reflects FDA consultation with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as well as current research from the U.S. and abroad.

We understand and share the frustration of the LGBTQ community that even under the revised FDA guidelines some people who want to donate blood cannot. We continue to urge the FDA to explore approaches that will expand the available donor base, while applying the best data, science and medical knowledge available to ensure continued safety of the community blood supply.

What is the universal blood type?

Type O-negative is the universal blood type for transfusions. That means it can be given to any patient in an emergency when their blood type is not known but they need immediate transfusion. Only about 8% of the population in O negative, so there is a special need for these donors.

People who are AB positive, which occurs in only 2.5% of the U.S. population, are so-called “universal recipients” who can receive blood from any other blood type.

How long until my blood is used?

All donations are processed and usually available for use within 24 hours. After testing and processing, platelets have a shelf life of 5 days. Red cells can be stored and used for up to 42 days. Plasma can be used fresh, or frozen and stored for up to 12 months.

Are the health history questions necessary every time?

To ensure the safest possible blood supply, all screening questions must be asked of all donors at each donation. The FDA requires that all blood centers conform to this practice.

Is Bloodworks affiliated with the Red Cross?

No. We are local, independent, non-profit and community based. Previously known as Puget Sound Blood Center, we’re backed by more than 70 years of history and 230,000 donors and volunteers. We provide a safe, lifesaving blood supply for more than 90 Northwest hospitals.

We are much more than blood bank. Patients depend on us. Our physicians are specialists in transfusion medicine, and provide care for patients with bleeding disorders and other conditions. Our labs offer diverse testing services to support patient care as well as organ and tissue transplantation. Our research institute makes scientific breakthroughs to help people live longer and healthier lives–locally, and around the world.

May I bring children into the screening room or the drawing area?

Due to the risk of exposure to blood and needles in the collection area and the need for complete confidentiality during screening, children must remain in the canteen or waiting areas. We feel that it is important to let the children know what their parents are doing, and if time permits, we are more than happy to answer questions and explain the donation process.

Why is there sometimes a blood shortage?

Bloodworks strives to maintain an optimum inventory level of a four day supply. Due to unpredictable demands from trauma incidents or tragedies, the inventory fluctuates hourly. When the supply drops below a three day level, Bloodworks begins alerting local donors to increase the inventory to a safe operating level.

Does Bloodworks Northwest pay donors for giving blood?

No. FDA regulations do not permit compensation for blood that is used for transfusion purposes. Studies have shown that volunteer donors provide the safest blood supply. Bloodworks is fully committed to remaining a volunteer donor supported organization and does not pay for blood donations.

As a regular or frequent blood donor, what do I need to know about iron?

For information about the impact of donation of your body’s iron level and maintaining a healthy iron balance go here.

Why are pregnant women unable to donate?

Although no problems have been reported, the safety of donating blood during or shortly after pregnancy has not been fully established. There may be medical risks to mother and baby if a blood donation is made while pregnant or shortly after pregnancy.

How can I have a blood drive at work?

For more information about the requirements to host a blood drive, please call 800-398-7888 to find a Donor Representative near you.

Where are the donation centers located?

Bloodworks currently has twelve donation centers located in Bellevue, Bellingham, Eugene (OR), Everett, Federal Way, Lynnwood, Olympia, Central Seattle, North Seattle, Silverdale, Tukwila and Vancouver. The Blood Center also has mobile collection units stationed at each center to travel to work sites, schools, places of worship or community centers throughout Western Washington and Oregon. For more information on center locations or mobile drive call 1-800-398-7888.

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