15 Questions About Donating Blood, Answered

iStock/mediaphotos
iStock/mediaphotos

You've rolled up your sleeve, faced a fear of needles, and risked passing out mid-donation. Congrats, you're one of the roughly 6.8 million people who donate blood each year! But even if you've shimmied onto that cot and happily accepted your post-blood draw cookie, you still may have questions about the process. We've answered some of the big ones.

1. Where does the donated blood go?

When you needle up for the American Red Cross, they collect roughly one pint of blood and several test tubes—all of which are stored in iced coolers until they can be transported to an official Red Cross center. From there, the samples are spun in centrifuges to separate the red cells, platelets, and plasma, and the tubes are sent out for testing at one of three national labs.

Samples that come back disease-free are then stored at the center—red cells last in a 6 ºC refrigerator for up to 42 days; platelets remain at room temperature in agitators up to five days (and are frozen for up to a year)—until they are shipped to a hospital for use.

2. What do they test for?

Your vials undergo a dozen tests designed to both establish blood type and to weed out donations laced with infectious diseases, such as HIV, hepatitis B and C, and syphilis. If your sample tests positive for something, your donation will be trashed, but on the upside they'll reach out and let you know about your diagnosis and offer counseling with a trained professional.

3. What exactly are platelets, anyway?

Platelets are the tiny, disc-shaped particles inside your blood that help it to clot. They're needed for patients with diseases such as aplastic anemia and leukemia that hamper the body's ability to clot and for patients who are undergoing major surgeries. Platelets are separated from your red blood cells after you donate and can only be stored up to five days. Thus, maintaining a large enough supply can be an issue.

4. How much blood is needed to save a life?

It depends on the situation. According to the American Red Cross, the average red blood cell transfusion is roughly 3 pints, but a single car accident victim could need up to 100 pints.

5. Are certain blood types more valuable than others?

bags of blood
iStock/vladm

Yes. O positive is the most common blood type in America—belonging to about 38 percent of the population—and thus, the most likely to be needed for a transfusion. (Type A positive ranks second at 34 percent of the population.) O negative blood types—that's about 7 percent of people—are considered the universal donor because their blood can be given to anyone. The least common blood type? AB negative—belonging to just 1 percent of people.

6. How many people donate each year?

Not enough. The American Red Cross estimates that less than 38 percent of the United States population is eligible to donate blood at any given moment—but less than 10 percent of those people do. Each year, roughly 6.8 million donors give 13.6 million units of blood. That may sound like a lot, but approximately 36,000 units are needed across the U.S. each day and because of the short shelf-life, it's difficult to build up an inventory of blood if a lot is needed quickly.

7. Who isn't eligible to donate?

Some states allow 16-year-olds to donate with parental consent, but most require blood givers to be at least 17. You also have to weigh a minimum of 110 pounds and be in good general health. (If you have a cold, flu, or fever, you will be turned away.) Being a world traveler could also be an issue. Those who have recently visited countries where diseases such as malaria or the Zika virus are common are required to wait a set amount of time before offering up a vein. Piercings and tattoos can also temporarily prevent you from donating depending on how long ago you acquired them.

8. Is there any way to speed up the process?

While the Red Cross estimates donating blood can take more than an hour—from the time you fill out your paperwork until you accept the post-donation cookie—you can cut out some time with RapidPass. Users complete forms online, then print them off and bring them to the donation site. For a true walk-in, walk-out experience you can also schedule an appointment. Once you're all set up, the actual blood draw only takes about 10 minutes.

9. How does my body replace the blood lost?

The average adult has between 10 and 12 pints of blood in their body. Since your bone marrow churns out a constant supply of red cells, plasma, and platelets, the plasma you give is replaced within the first 24 hours.

10. Wait, then why do I have to wait 56 days between donations?

getting a bandage after donating blood
iStock/FotoDuets

While the plasma is replenished quickly, it can take four to six weeks for your body to manufacture the red blood cells that are lost. If you're only donating platelets, which your body replaces within a day, you can give again after a week. However, you're restricted to only 24 total platelet donations a year.

11. Do I need to do anything special after donating?

The American Red Cross suggests replacing the lost iron with foods such as spinach, beans, and red meat as well as drinking an extra 4 to 8 ounces of non-alcoholic liquid. They also advise against doing heavy lifting and recommend keeping your bandage on for at least five hours. (Bonus: that makes it easier to brag to your friends about your largesse!)

12. Why do they ask for my ethnicity?

According to the New York Blood Center, knowing your race makes it easier to match your blood with a needy recipient. "Blood types and antigens are inherited, just like eye and hair color," reads an entry on their website. "Searching for very precise transfusion matches can be like looking for a needle in a haystack, so it makes sense to begin with donors of the same ethnic or racial background as the transfusion recipient." A recent piece in The New York Times concurs: "While no one is suggesting forced segregation of blood bags, it's now scientifically established that blood can be racially or ethnically specific."

13. Can you really make money donating blood?

You can score between $20 and $45 for donating plasma at one of the 530 licensed and IQPP certified plasma collection centers in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. The process is similar to donating blood, except that once the whole blood is drawn, the plasma is separated out and the rest of the blood is returned to your body. (The whole procedure takes between 90 minutes and two hours.) However, this plasma usually doesn't go straight to disease-stricken donees. Instead, it's given to pharmaceutical companies who use it to create medicine for a range of conditions.

14. Can I donate blood to myself?

Yes, but it takes some legwork. You can do what's called an autologous donation—where you donate blood to be used on yourself during a surgery or planned medical procedure—but you'll need a prescription from your doctor.

15. Is there any substitute for blood?

Not yet. However the American Red Cross says they are diligent about tracking research that might help identify an alternative. "The Red Cross actively follows blood substitute research," reads a note on their site, "and works closely with other organizations that develop new transfusion alternatives."

This story was updated in 2019.

These ASMR-Ready Headphones Promise to Lull You to Sleep

AcousticSheep
AcousticSheep

What do hushed whispers, gently tapping fingernails, and Bob Ross’s voice have in common? They’re all examples of triggers that may cause what’s known as an autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR), or, as Dictionary.com succinctly explains it, a “calming, pleasurable feeling often accompanied by a tingling sensation” that can be triggered by soothing stimuli. ASMR has recently been recognized as an effective relaxation technique for those looking to calm their nerves; now, ASMR enthusiasts and novices alike can experience it in the form of a sleep-ready headband.

Upon first glance, SleepPhones: ASMR Edition may look like just a fabric headband, but the device actually features flat speakers tucked into soft, stretchy, eco-friendly material. Unlike regular headphones, SleepPhones can be worn comfortably to bed, even if you sleep on your side, and they come preloaded with content designed to help you relax. They feature eight hours of built-in ASMR content by 16 different ASMR artists (or ASMRtists), including but not limited to tracks with rhythmic tapping and "peaceful Italian whisperings."

A close-up of the SleepPhones speaker technology
AcousticSheep

The speaker components of SleepPhones
AcousticSheep

Using SleepPhones is designed to be a stress-free experience. The speakers have the ability to play for 20 ad-free hours with a mere three-hour charging time in between. There are also zero cords involved, meaning you won’t get all tangled up as you lie down or if you have a tendency to toss and turn at night. The small button located in the back of the headband allows you to start, pause, or skip tracks and control the volume.

For people looking for ways to relax beyond yoga and meditation, ASMR may be the way to go. One study observed that subjects watching ASMR videos not only reported feeling that aforementioned pleasant tingling, but were also found to have reduced heart rates.

You can get a pair of your own SleepPhones on Kickstarter with a pledge of $75 or more. They come in three different sizes with seven colors from which to choose.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

FDA Is Warning Against Fecal Transplants After Person Dies From E. Coli Infection

iStock/artisteer
iStock/artisteer

Though it may sound gross, the benefits of a fecal transplant—taking the feces of one person and introducing it into the gastrointestinal tract of another—are promising for those suffering from a Clostridioides difficile infection. The tenacious infections are often the result of sustained antibiotic use, which can kill the patient's "good" gut bacteria and allow C. difficile to proliferate. As the theory goes, the “good” bacteria in feces transplanted from a healthy person may restore the infected person's microbiome and alleviate symptoms like life-threatening diarrhea.

The treatment, which is not FDA-approved, is risky. The FDA has announced that two people involved in a clinical trial recently received fecal transplants that contained drug-resistant bacteria, with one of them dying as a result.

According to The New York Times, the FDA did not offer details of either case, relating only that both patients were immunocompromised, which is one of the contraindications of receiving the transplant. The stool they received was believed to contain antibiotic-resistant E. coli bacteria.

As a result, the FDA is suspending a number of fecal transplant clinical trials until it can be determined how stool is being tested for contamination with potentially deadly bacteria and why the E. coli was not detected. The stool that infected both patients came from the same donor.

Fecal transplants are considered an experimental treatment for C. difficile infection when first-line treatment like antibiotics are ineffective. The fecal transplant is usually introduced to the digestive tract via pills or an infusion.

[h/t The New York Times]

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