Skip to main content
well informed

5 Things You Never Knew About Donating Blood

Where it goes, who it helps and why you should donate

Photo credit: Trunk

Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood.

It's a shocking statistic—especially considering our country’s blood supply is provided entirely by volunteers. "There's no substitute for human blood," says Jim Martone, senior administrative clinical director at Northwell Health. "The voluntary blood program is supported solely by donors who come in and donate blood on a periodic or regular basis."

On some level, you probably know that blood donation is a good, important thing to do. But you may not realize exactly how this donation impacts the lives of others—or how easy it is to do. Here are five important things to know about donating blood, from best practices to surprising statistics.

1. Just one blood donation can save up to four lives

Blood donors are able to give one pint of blood every 56 days—the time it takes for an adult’s body to return to normal levels. Though a pint may not seem like a lot (especially when you think about how quickly a pint of milk can go), Martone says even one blood donation goes a long way. "Once collected, the blood gets sent to a processing area and is broken up into multiple components—red blood cells, plasma, cryo and platelets." Plasma is used to treat burn victims and those who have lost a lot of their own blood. Red blood cells are typically utilized during surgeries, and platelets and cryo help patients experiencing severe bleeding. "Because blood is typically separated into many components, you can feel good knowing you have directly helped several people in need," says Martone.

2. Most donated blood isn't used for traumas

When you imagine where donated blood goes, accidents where a patient has lost a lot of blood likely come to mind. But you might be surprised to hear that only 2 percent of donated blood gets used by trauma patients. "Most blood in this country goes to cancer patients,” Martone says, “because during chemotherapy, patients can become anemic and/or have low platelet counts."

Donated blood is also especially crucial for treating children with sickle cell anemia. "These patients require an entire blood exchange because of the disease," Martone explains. "They experience red blood cells that are not normal and actually sickle, which means they don't flow into blood vessels properly, causing extreme pain and lack of oxygen. We typically do a red blood cell exchange by processing their blood through an instrument that takes their blood and replaces it with healthy donor blood. Without donated blood, these kids wouldn’t survive."

3. Donated blood is needed most during summer and the holiday season

Blood donations dip during the rush of the holiday season and during the summer—which can create blood shortages. "Summer months are tough because a lot of families go on vacation," says Martone. Also, the regular donors may end up being disqualified depending on where they traveled. "If you travel out of the country, we have to be careful about transmitting things like Zika or malaria," Martone explains. "College campuses are typically a good avenue for blood donation, but when students come back from traveling abroad, they may have to wait three to six months in order to be eligible to donate."

4. You should treat yourself to potato chips before donating

Or pretzels, popcorn or whatever salty snack you prefer. As Martone explains, eating some salty foods the night before you donate helps ensure your body fluids are in a balanced state. "Increasing your salt intake the night before you donate helps prevent reactions," he says. "It's all about fluid balance — salty foods actually help with retention of fluids. When you donate, they're taking the blood out of you, so your body has to compensate for that fluid loss.” For the best donation experience, Martone also recommends hydrating both the night before and the morning of your donation, as well as eating breakfast.

5. There's probably a blood donation center that can take you right now

You don't have to wait for your next company blood drive to roll around in order to donate blood quickly and easily. "New York Blood Center has an online service for finding a donation site near you," says Martone. "Even if you want to donate that day, you don't need to make an appointment—they will not turn you down."

Having a stable supply of donated blood available makes the difference between life and death. "A blood donation is a gift of life that a healthy individual can give to others in their community who are sick or injured," Martone says. "In one hour’s time, one person can donate one unit of blood that can help save multiple lives."

Next Steps and Useful Resources

  • Find out more about the services offered by Northwell Health Labs, one of the largest laboratory systems in the country.

Do you want to see more articles on a similar topic?

Thanks for your input!

Published February 6th, 2018