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Do You Donate Blood? Here Are The Benefits And Risks Of Blood Donation

Every year, 14 June is observed as World Blood Donor Day. A joint initiative of the World Health Organization, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the day was first observed in 2004 and aims to raise awareness of the need for safe blood and blood products and to thank blood donors for their voluntary, life-saving gifts of blood. It was declared as an annual global event in the 58th World Health Assembly in 2005.

World Blood Donor Day is one of 11 official global public health campaigns marked by the World Health Organization (WHO), along with World Health Day, World Chagas Disease Day, World Tuberculosis Day, World Immunization Week, World Patient Safety Day, World Malaria Day, World No Tobacco Day, World Hepatitis Day, World Antimicrobial Awareness Week and World AIDS Day.

For 2021, the World Blood Donor Day theme is 'Give Blood and Keep the World Beating'. The message highlights the essential contribution blood donors make to keeping the world pulsating by saving lives and improving others' health.

The World Health Organization (WHO) stresses the importance of voluntary blood donation, pointing out that one donation can save as many as three lives. Apart from being used as whole blood, it can also be separated into different components - red blood cells, blood platelets or plasma, etc. and used for treating several diseases [1].

There are three types of blood donors, voluntary, paid and family or replacement [2]. The fact that you feel tired and sick after you have donated blood is only a temporary feeling. But in the long run, there are some serious health benefits of donating blood, with the central one being the balancing of the iron levels in your body [3].

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Blood products and blood transfusions help save millions of lives every year and can help patients suffering from life-threatening diseases. Reports suggest that each day, thousands of people need donated blood and blood products to stay alive and healthy [4].

A blood donor's age must be between 18-60 years and their weight should be more than 45 kgs to be able to donate blood. And, one has to wait for 56 days or 8 weeks between whole blood donations.

Apart from the selfless act of saving a life, donating blood may also have benefits for the donor. Let's take a look.


Health Benefits Of Donating Blood

Here is a list of benefits a donor can reap from the process of blood donation.


1. Promotes Heart Health

Blood donation helps in maintaining the iron levels and reduces the risk of cardiovascular problems and also help maintain your heart rhythms. By keeping the iron levels in check, blood donations help reduce the risk of developing heart diseases as well [5].


2. Prevents Hemochromatosis

One of the major health benefits of donating blood includes reducing the risk of hemochromatosis. It is a health condition that arises due to excess absorption of iron by the body. This condition is either inherited or may be caused due to alcoholism, anaemia, and other disorders. Regular blood donation will reduce iron overload in the body [6].


3. Reduces Risk For Liver Damage

When the iron level in your body is in excess, it increases the risk for liver failure and damage to the pancreas [7]. Hence, donating blood helps in getting rid of the extra iron; and this, in turn, helps reduce the risk for liver and pancreas damage.

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4. Manages Blood Pressure

One of the other critical benefits of donating blood is the impact it has on controlling high blood pressure levels [8]. When you donate blood, the volume of blood is balanced, thereby preventing the increase in blood pressure. So, a healthy heart is good to prevent cardiovascular diseases.

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5. Stimulates Blood Cell Production

One of the other central health benefits of blood donation is that it helps stimulate the production of new blood cells, which make up for the blood loss and thus help in maintaining your overall health and well-being [9].


6. Burns Calories

According to the University of California, one can burn approximately 650 calories per donation of one pint of blood [10]. Regular blood donors lose weight while in the process and this is helpful for those who are obese and are at a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases and other health disorders. Because it helps burn those extra calories in your body [11]. However, frequent blood donation isn't advisable as a way to lose weight.


7. May Reduce Cancer Risk

Lower levels of iron in the body reduce the risks of developing cancer symptoms. Chances of suffering from cancer especially colon, lung, liver, throat and lung cancer are lower if you donate blood [12]. A reduction in the iron level in the body is linked to low cancer risk.

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Apart from these major health benefits, donating blood can help reduce stress, improve your emotional well-being, benefit your physical health, help get rid of negative feelings, provide a sense of belonging and reduce isolation [13].


Side Effects Of Donating Blood

The procedure of blood donation is safe for adults who are healthy. However, there are some minor side effects that could occur. Such as [14]:

  • bruising,
  • continued bleeding,
  • dizziness,
  • light-headedness,
  • nausea,
  • pain, and
  • physical weakness.
  • These side effects will only last for a few minutes. But, if you are experiencing the following even after taking proper rest, you should immediately call the blood donation centre or go to a hospital [15].

    • Lightheadedness, dizziness and nausea even after eating, drinking and resting
    • A raised bump or continued bleeding at the needle site
    • Pain, numbness or tingling in the arm

What To Do Before Blood Donation

At least a few weeks before you donate blood, ensure that you are eating a healthy amount of iron-rich foods such as seafood, meat, spinach, beans, and sweet potatoes. This will prevent the risk of having low haemoglobin levels [16].

Before you donate blood, you will be asked to fill out a form that has questions about your medical history. This includes whether you have any risk of blood-borne infections, if you are taking any kind of medications, or if you have any nutrient deficiency and so on.

After this, a blood sample will be collected from you to rule out any unwanted conditions such as anaemia or blood pressure. If your blood sample turns out positive, the doctor will allow you to donate blood [17].


What To Do During Blood Donation

You will be asked to sit or lie down comfortably. An antiseptic solution will be used to clean your arm and a blood pressure cuff will be placed around your upper arm to fill your veins with more blood and make it visible.

Then, a sterile needle is inserted into the vein in your arm, which has a plastic tube attached to it that will help draw blood into the blood bag. Only about 400 ml of blood is extracted from the body and this whole process takes about 15 minutes [18][19]. After it is complete, the needle is removed and a small bandage is placed on the area.


What To Do After Blood Donation

After you have donated blood, keep your arm extended facing upwards to avoid bruising, swelling, blood clot and pain. You can eat a light snack if you want and avoid performing any physical activity in the next 24 hours.

Your blood levels will get back to normal after 2-3 weeks. So, therefore to help your body recover quickly here are some tips to follow after donating blood [20].


On A Final Note…

While donating blood, ensure that you donate it in a specialised medical care centre which practices ultra-safe methods to ensure that you are safe in the process of the donation. All donated blood products are screened for HIV, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis c and syphilis before transfusion. Consequently, the gift of blood is the gift of life.