The Body’s Lifeline: The Impact & Benefits of Donating Blood
Updated: Jul 25, 2021
Although many generous Canadians already donate blood regularly, the more donors there are, the better. But why is blood demand so high?
Author: Alison MacPhee
Blood: Background Information
Approximately 50% of Canadians will either be in need of blood components or know someone who will at some point in their lives. However, only 4% of Canadians are registered blood donors . These statistics prove just how great the need is for eligible donors to come forward and contribute. After all, the procedure is very safe, accompanied by relatively low pain levels [1,2].
In humans, there are four different blood groups: A, B, AB, and O . Each of these groups can either be Rh-positive or Rh-negative, representing the presence or absence of the Rh antigen . The blood type O- is known as the ‘universal donor,’ meaning it can be given to someone with any other blood type with no adverse effects . For this reason, there is a high demand for O- blood, but people with different blood types are still welcomed and required to keep adequate stock of blood units .
The Donation Process
In Canada, there is a list of criteria that must be met to be eligible to donate [1,2]. For example, a donor must be at least 17 years of age, be in good health, have not gotten a tattoo or piercing in the preceding three months, meet certain travel regulations and meet the minimum weight requirement of 50 kg (110 lbs). According to the following chart, particularly when the donor is 17-23 years of age :
Canadian Blood Services lists a full array of requirements on their website. Before donating, it is essential to drink plenty of water (approximately 500 mL) and eat a balanced meal and a salty snack . First-time donors should bring their donor card with them or a piece of government-issued identification . During the appointment, an employee will perform an identification check, questionnaire, interview, and a finger prick to check hemoglobin levels . They will collect about 450 mL of blood (the body has about 5L), which will take 10-15 minutes . The whole process takes about an hour [1,2]. For the rest of the day, donors should get plenty of rest, while avoiding strenuous activity and heavy lifting [1,2]. Canadian Blood Services lists a full list of instructions in this brochure.
Where Does Donated Blood End Up?
Donated blood goes through a rigorous screening process before being transfused into a patient in need . Since the most common form of donation is whole blood, the blood must be separated by being spun in a centrifuge into its components: red blood cells, platelets, and plasma, all used for different purposes [2,3,4]. White blood cells are discarded to prevent severe reactions in the recipient’s body . Then, the blood is tested for the presence of infectious diseases, such as HIV, hepatitis, or syphilis .
The Importance of Blood Donations
Donated blood components can help a wide variety of patients, including in cases of serious injuries, surgeries, childbirth, anemia, and cancer treatments [3,4]. According to the American Red Cross, just one donation can save up to three lives . Some argue that there are even benefits for the donor, as donating may give them a sense of purpose in their life .
Canadian Blood Services is in particular need of donors currently, due to a combination of COVID-19, relatively short shelf life for blood, and recent safety changes that were made to the eligibility criteria . These changes include increasing the minimum time between donations from 56 to 84 days for women, and increasing minimum hemoglobin levels for male donors, from 125 to 130 g/mL .
Canadian Blood Services has expressed its need for 20,000-25,000 units in its inventory to maintain sufficient supply . With such a small time commitment that donating requires, it is up to us Canadians to maintain these numbers and save lives.
Jasmine Kokkat, Ibrahim Alayche, Rhea Verma
Web design by Majd Al-Aarg
Cover photo provided by LuAnn Hunt on Unsplash
blood.ca [Internet]. Ottawa (ON): Canadian Blood Services; 2020; [cited 2020 Oct 19]. Available: https://www.blood.ca/en
Better Health Channel [Internet]. Victoria (AU): Victoria State Government; 2020. Blood donation; c2020 [cited 2020 Oct 19]. Available: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/blood-donation
American Red Cross Blood Services [Internet]. Washington (DC): The American National Red Cross; 2020. What Happens to Donated Blood; 2020 [cited 2020 Oct 19]. Available: https://www.redcrossblood.org/donate-blood/blood-donation-process/what-happens-to-donated-blood.html
NHS Blood and Transport [Internet]. London (UK): National Health Service; 2020. How blood is used; 2020 [cited 2020 Oct 19]. Available: https://www.blood.co.uk/why-give-blood/how-blood-is-used/
Healthline [Internet]. San Francisco (CA): Healthline; 2020. The Benefits of Donating Blood; 2019 [updated 2019 June 26; cited 2020 Oct 19]. Available: https://www.healthline.com/health/benefits-of-donating-blood#benefits
The Star [Internet]. Toronto (ON): The Star; 2020. Why Canada’s blood donation problem persists; 2017 Aug 11 [cited 2020 Oct 19]. Available: https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2017/08/11/why-canadas-blood-donation-problem-persists.html