Blood Donation FAQs

What are the minimum requirements to become a blood donor?

Check with your local blood bank to determine the specific requirements. You must be at least 16 years of age, a minimum of 110 pounds, and in basic good health.

Will donating blood hurt?

You might feel a slight sting in the beginning lasting only a couple of seconds, but there should be no discomfort during the donation.

Are blood donors paid?

No. Blood collected for transfusion in the US is collected from volunteer blood donors.

How badly is blood needed?

Blood supplies vary depending on the region and time of year. As more restrictive donor criteria are necessary to protect the safety of the blood supply and as the donor population ages, the inventory levels are affected across the nation. If you are eligible, your blood donations are needed. The inventory levels of blood would be more consistently maintained if more of those who are eligible donate 1-2 times each year.

Why are there often blood shortages?

Most blood centers strive to maintain an optimum inventory level of a three-day supply. Due to unpredictable demands for trauma patients, the inventory fluctuates hourly. When the blood supply drops below a three-day level, blood centers begin alerting local donors to increase the inventory to a safe operating level.

Are sterile supplies used?

Based on AABB Standards and FDA regulations, all needles, tubing sets, collection bags and other donation supplies are sterile, used once, and discarded in the trash to protect the donor, the transfusion recipient, and the blood donor center staff.

How much blood is taken?

For a whole blood donation, approximately 500 ml or one-half liter of blood is collected. For donations of other blood products, such as platelet or plasma, the amount collected depends on your height, weight and platelet count.

How often may I donate?

The Medical Director of each blood donor center is responsible for setting policies regarding the frequency of donation. The policies set by a Medical Director can be more restrictive, permitting donation less frequently than permitted by AABB Standards and FDA regulations. Based on AABB and FDA requirements, you must wait 56 days between whole blood donations. Platelet (apheresis) donors may donate more frequently. This is because the body replenishes platelets and plasma more quickly than red cells. Platelets will return to normal levels within about 72 hours of donating. Plasma (the liquid portion of your blood) will return to normal levels within a couple of days. 

Does donated blood stay on the shelf indefinitely until it is used?

No. Each unit of whole blood is separated into several components. Red blood cells may be stored under refrigeration for a maximum of 42 days, or frozen for up to 10 years. Platelets are stored at room temperature and may be kept for a maximum of five to seven days. Fresh frozen plasma is kept in a stored frozen state for up to one year. Cryoprecipitated AHF is stored frozen for up to one year. Granulocytes must be transfused within 24 hours of donation.

Other products manufactured from blood include albumin, immune globulin, specific immune globulins, and clotting factor concentrates. Commercial manufacturers commonly produce these blood products.

Are the history questions necessary every time I donate?

Yes, this ensures the safest possible blood supply, all donors must be asked all the screening questions at each donation. Both AABB and FDA regulations specifically require that all blood donors complete the donor history questionnaire on the day of donation and prior to donating. 

What is the most common blood type?

The approximate distribution of blood types in the U.S. blood donor population is as follows. Distribution may be different for specific racial and ethnic groups and in different parts of the country:

O Rh-positive --- 39 percent
O Rh-negative ---  9 percent
A Rh-positive --- 30 percent
A Rh-negative ---  6 percent
B Rh-positive ---    9 percent
B Rh-negative ---   2 percent
AB Rh-positive ---  4 percent
AB Rh-negative --- 1 percent

In an emergency, anyone can receive type O red blood cells. Therefore, people with type O blood are known as "universal blood donors." In addition, individuals with AB type plasma are the universal plasma donors.

Is there such thing as artificial blood?

Scientists have yet to find a successful substitute for human blood. This is why blood donors are so vital to the lives of those who are in need of blood.

What fees are associated with blood?

There are significant costs associated with collecting, testing, preparing components, labeling, storing and shipping blood; recruiting and educating donors; and quality assurance. As a result, processing fees are charged to recover those costs. Processing fees for individual blood components vary. Hospitals alos charge for any additional testing that may be required, such as the crossmatch, as well as for the administration of the blood.

Is there anything I should do before I donate?

Be sure to eat well at your regular mealtimes and drink plenty of fluids before and after donation.

What does the term “donor deferral” mean?

Donor deferral means that an individual is not eligible to donate based on the criteria used to protect the health and safety of both the donors and transfusion recipient.  A prospective donor may be deferred at any point during the collection and testing process. The period of time you will not be eligible to donate depends on the specific reason for deferal. After the deferral period ends, a donor can return to the blood donor center to be reevaluated and resume donation if all donor eligibility criteria are met.

Blood donor centers follow donor eligibility criteria based on requirements of the FDA, AABB Standards, and their own local policies. The Medical Director has ultimate authority and can establish a more stringent deferral policy based on clinical judgement as a physician. Refer to the AABB Blood Donor History Questionnaire for examples of the questions asked during the donor screening process. Your blood donor center can best answer your questions about donor deferral. Some of the reasons for deferral are listed here:

  • Anyone who has ever used needles to take drugs, steroids, or any substance not prescribed by a doctor
  • Men who have had sexual contact with other men in the past 12 months
  • Anyone with a positive test for HIV (AIDS virus)
  • Men and women who have ever engaged in sex for money or drugs
  • Anyone who has had babesiosis or Chagas disease
  • Anyone who has taken Tegison for psoriasis
  • Anyone who has risk factors for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) or who has a blood relative with CJD
  • Anyone who has risk factors for vCJD, including:
    • Anyone who spent three months or more in the United Kingdom from 1980 through 1996
    • Anyone who received a blood transfusion in the United Kingdom or France from 1980 to the present
    • Anyone who has spent five years in Europe from 1980 to the present.

If I was deferred once before, am I still ineligible to donate?

Your blood donor center will inform you if you are permanently deferred or temporarily deferred. The deferral time depends upon the reason for deferral. Prior to each donation, you will be given a mini-physical and medical interview. At that time, it will be determined if you are eligible to donate blood on that day.

If I just received a flu shot, can I donate blood?

Yes. There is no waiting period to donate after receiving a flu shot.

If I have a cold or the flu, can I donate blood?

No, blood blood centers require that you be in good health (symptom-free) and feeling well.

Can I still donate if I have high blood pressure?

Yes, if your blood pressure falls within the limits set by FDA regulations.

What if I'm taking aspirin or medication prescribed by my doctor?

Your blood donor center can best answer your questions. We recommend that you call the blood donor center ahead of time to inquire about any medications you are taking. Aspirin and ibuprofen will not affect a whole blood donation. However, apheresis platelet products can be effected if aspirin or aspirin products are taken 48 hours prior to donation. Many other medications are acceptable.

How long will the actual donation process take?

The entire donation process, from registration to post-donation refreshments, takes about one hour. The actual donation takes about 5-10 minutes.

What types of tests are performed on donated blood?

After blood is drawn, it is tested for ABO group (blood type) and Rh type (positive or negative), as well as for any unexpected red blood cell antibodies that may cause problems for the transfusion recipient. Blood is tested for:

  • Hepatitis B virus
  • Hepatitis C virus
  • HIV-1 and HIV-2
  • HTLV-I and HTLV-II
  • Syphilis
  • West Nile virus
  • Trypanosoma cruzi, the infectious agent causing Chagas' disease 

How will I feel after I donate?

Most people tolerate blood donation very well. However, some people experience fatigue. You should discuss your concerns before and after donation with a staff member at the blood donor center or blood drive. They can offer recommendations regarding strenuous exercise and other physical activity following donation

Where can I donate blood?

Use the AABB blood bank locator to find the blood donation center nearest you or search the internet for current information on blood donation in your area. We recommend you contact the blood donor center for more information.

What can you do if you aren't eligible to donate?

If you are unable to donate, you may be able to volunteer to help recruit donors or to organize mobile blood drives. In addition, monetary donations are always welcome to help ensure that blood banks can continue to provide safe blood to those in need.

How can I host a blood drive at my work, school or church?

Use the AABB blood bank locator to find the blood donor center for more information on how you can help patients in need.