15 Things You Need to Know Before You Donate Blood

For starters, you may not be eligible.

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Every two seconds, someone in the United States needs blood. And one blood donation can help save up to three lives. Haven't done it before? Today, new, sterile needles are used for every donation and a system is in place to make sure the process is safe for the donor — here's everything else a first-timer needs to know.

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Not everyone is eligible.

According to the American Red Cross, about 38% of the American population is eligible to give blood. To donate, you must be at least 17 years old and 110 pounds. Other health conditions can prevent you from donating blood, such an acute infection, HIV/AIDs, or Ebola. If you've recently gotten a tattoo, you have to wait 12 months due to risk of hepatitis.

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Donating Blood - Blood Pressure
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The first step is a health screening.

Before you can give blood, you'll have to fill out a questionnaire and consult with a nurse to confirm your identity, review your disease history, and assess your current health. The screening will include testing your hemoglobin, temperature, and blood pressure to ensure you're healthy enough to give blood.

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Donating Blood - Finger Prick Test
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Then there's a finger prick test.

The American Red Cross checks your hemoglobin (a protein in your body that contains iron and carries oxygen) levels before each blood or platelet donation using one drop of blood from a finger prick. According to Canadian Blood Services, normal hemoglobin levels for females are between 120 g/L to 160 g/L.

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There are four different types of donations.

If you're donating to the American Red Cross, you can give Whole Blood, Power Red, Platelets, and AB Elite Plasma. Whole blood is usually given to trauma patients and those undergoing surgery. Power Red blood is concentrated red blood cells that can help newborns, trauma patients, and sickle cell anemia. Platelets are cells within your blood that help the body form clots and are most often given to cancer patients. And AB Elite Plasma is used to help those in emergency situations to help stop bleeding.

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You'll need an appointment.

There are a couple ways to schedule a time to donate blood. You can find an American Red Cross blood drive by entering your zip code online and filtering by date or distance. Then, click on the time slot and type of blood donation you're looking to give. You can also schedule and manage appointments through the American Red Cross app.

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It's important to eat a snack beforehand.

Have an iron-rich bite like chicken, quinoa, broccoli, lentils, or strawberries. Healthline advises staying away from fatty foods like bacon or french fries, because they can affect your pre-donation blood tests.

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Bring your ID or donor card.

On the day of your appointment, you'll need one primary form of ID, like a passport or donor card. If you don't have a primary document, you'll need to show two secondary forms of identification, like a student ID and a credit card.

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And a list of your medications.

Make sure you let the healthcare providers know all of the prescription and over-the-counter medications you're taking. Certain acne medications, blood thinners, and antiplatelet medications like aspirin can prevent you from being able to donate blood, according to GoodRx.

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It's best to wear a short sleeve shirt.

This way the person drawing your blood will have easy access to your veins. If you really want to wear a long sleeve shirt, just make sure you're able to roll the sleeves up.

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Donating Blood - Process
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The donation process will take eight to 10 minutes.

According to the American Red Cross, the entire process of donating blood from registration to recovery takes about one hour and 15 minutes. But the actual donation of 500 mL of blood will only take about eight to 10 minutes.

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You may start to feel faint.

Although most people feel fine after a blood donation, some may experience reactions during and after, including feeling nauseated, dizzy, or faint. The NHS advises drinking plenty of fluids, avoiding vigorous activity, and eating a salty snack to curb these side effects. If you experience nerve damage, arm pain, or numbness, Canadian Blood Services recommends applying ice and Tylenol for pain. There's also a risk of developing iron deficiency from a blood donation if you're 17 to 25 years old, menstruating, or donate blood frequently (two times a year).

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It's important to rest afterward.

Take 15 minutes or so to relax in the refreshment area and enjoy a complimentary drink and snack. This is especially important if you experienced any lightheadedness during the donation process

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Donating Blood - Rest
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Avoid strenuous activity for a few days.

After a donation, take it easy — especially in the first six to eight hours post-appointment. And don't do any heavy lifting for 24 hours. You may have to request time off if your job requires physical labor.

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Stay away from alcohol for 24 hours.

And instead replenish your body with plenty of fluids. The American Red Cross recommends consuming an extra four 8 oz. lasses of water over the next day (on top of your usually daily recommended amount).

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You can donate more than once a year.

But it depends on the type of blood you're donating and your health on how many times, exactly. General guidelines recommend Whole Blood donations every 56 days; Power Red donations every 114 days (up to three times a year); and Platelet donations every seven days (up to 24 times a year).

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