There are lots of great reasons to donate blood: Maybe you're responding to a tragedy or you know someone who needs a transfusion or perhaps you were simply asked by a friend to give blood. Whatever your reason, giving blood is important. The Red Cross traditionally experiences a decline in donations at the end of the year, but the typical drop-off in donations has been compounded by inclement weather, resulting in the cancellation of 300 drives since Dec. 1. As a result, the Red Cross is experiencing a major shortage.
But it's easy for you to help. By giving blood, you're giving the gift of life to as many as three people, according to the Mayo Clinic, so what donors know to ensure a good donation experience? Here are some tips:
1. Who can donate?
First, know if you’re even eligible for donation. The most basic requirements are that donors must be healthy, at least 17 years old in most states, and weigh at least 110 pounds. When you go to give blood, you'll get a mini-physical of sorts, during which someone will check your pulse, blood pressure, hemoglobin level and temperature. They'll also ask you a few basic questions about your health and lifestyle. In some cases, the answers you give could disqualify you from donating blood. Be sure to check the Red Cross guidelines before you go.
2. Before donating, eat and drink this
If you are eligible and plan to donate blood, be sure to eat a healthy meal the night before (if you're donating first thing in the morning) or immediately before donating (if you're donating later in the day). Try to avoid fatty foods (like French fries or ice cream) since that will make your blood too fatty and difficult to test for infectious diseases. If this is the case, your blood won't be used for transfusion. Also, make sure to drink at least 16 ounces of fluid before you donate and wear clothing with sleeves that can easily be rolled up above the elbow.
3. After donating, eat and drink this
When you're done, it's important to drink water again to replenish your system and to rest for a bit. Most blood donation centers will not allow you to get up right away anyway, so use the time to drink, drink, drink. For the rest of the day after you donate blood, make sure to eat well, including foods rich in iron, and drink plenty of fluids (but back off the alcohol).
4. Take it easy
Be sure not to do strenuous activities, like rigorous exercise or heavy lifting (i.e., don't head to the gym or help your friend move boxes out of her old apartment) on the day you've given blood. If you start to feel faint or dizzy, stop what you're doing and rest until you feel better. If you still don't feel well after a day or start to get sick or develop a fever, seek medical attention.
5. How soon before you can donate again?
It takes eight weeks for the red cells in your blood to replenish themselves after donating blood, you have to wait at least that long between donations. If you’re donating plasma, on the other hand (which is collected through a machine that separates your blood components to take only the plasma and then returns the red blood cells to you), then you can donate more often.
While we’re on the topic — there’s another important blood-related substance you can donate — bone marrow. Thousands of blood cancer patients rely on a transfusion of bone marrow from a genetic match. You can easily join the bone marrow registry by swabbing the inside of your cheek with a kit you get online or at a donor drive.
This story was originally published in 2014 and has been updated with more recent information.