2017-01-19 / Neighbors

Learn the basics of donating blood

The flow of healthy, oxygenated blood through the body is essential for life. It is also required in large supply when people undergo surgeries and other therapies. With the demand for blood so high, reserves are in short supply. Adding to the shortage is lower turnout among donors, and the public has been urged to donate blood to increase units available. BLOOD SHORTAGES ABOUND

The Red Cross and America's Blood Centers, which collectively represent all of the blood banks in the United States, continued to report shortages throughout 2012. According to Red Cross President Dr. Bernadine Healy, there is a critical shortage of blood, and the shortage in 2012 was one of the worst her organization had seen. As such, the shortage has forced the cancellation of many elective surgeries across the United States. ABC notes there also are severe shortages throughout the Northeast.

Increased demand, meaning chemotherapy treatments, organ transplants, heart surgeries and elective options, have left blood banks depleted. Plus, the demand for blood exceeds the rate of blood donations. The Red Cross has stated it typically needs 80,000 units of blood available daily, but now has roughly 35,000 units. HOW DO I DONATE BLOOD?

Many people want to donate blood but are either off-put by the idea of needles and drawing of blood or are unaware of the process. Becoming informed can shed light on what is done and make the entire process much less intimidating.

Blood drives occur at various locations. You also may be able to donate blood directly at a Red Cross center or hospital. Simply log on to www.redcrossblood.org and enter your zip code or address to find out where and when a blood drive will be held.

Just about anyone age 17 to 75 can donate blood. Provided they are at least 110 pounds and do not have any acute symptoms of the flu, colds or infections or have had close contact with someone with hepatitis in the last year. Those who have hepatitis, a heart condition that is more serious than a murmur or HIV/AIDS or have engaged in any activities that may have put them at risk for HIV/AIDS, will not be able to donate.

At the donation you will be asked to fill out a questionnaire and be given a screening interview to qualify as a donor. You also will need to provide documentation that proves your age, so bring along identification. If you pass the screening, your vital signs will be checked and you will be prepared for the blood draw.

As with a routine blood test, the injection site will be sterilized and then a needle will be inserted to draw the blood. The volume of blood collected for a donation will be larger than for a blood test. One pint, or 450 milliliters of blood, will be taken. This is only between 8 to 10 percent of all the blood in your body. HOW WILL I FEEL?

Most people come through a blood donation unscathed. There may be a minor pinch when the needle is inserted. After blood has been drawn, many people feel fine and are encouraged to drink extra liquids for the next two days to help the body with the regeneration of blood. Your body will replace the fluid portion of your blood within 24 hours. It will take a few weeks to replace the red blood cells. Individuals who feel a little woozy can sit after the blood donation until they feel rested enough to move on. HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE?

It takes around 10 minutes for a traditional blood donation. If you are donating something specific, such as red cells, plasma or platelets, the process can take up to 2 hours. Many blood drives provide refreshments after donating and ask that you remain 10 to 15 minutes to ensure you are fine to exit. WHAT SHOULD I EXPECT AFTER THE DONATION?

Afterward you should be able to go on with your regular daily activities. It is adviseable to take it easy for the rest of the day and not engage in any heavy lifting or exercise. Also, avoid flying in airplanes or going scuba diving for a couple of days afterward. Moderate daily activities should be fine. Continue to stay hydrated. WHAT ARE OTHER THINGS I SHOULD KNOW?

You can prepare for donating blood by adhering to a healthy, low-fat diet and getting a good night’s sleep the day before. Avoid alcoholic beverages and tobacco prior to the donation. Make sure you do not skip any meals.

Bring along a list of the medications you take to share with the volunteers at the blood drive. Certain medications will exclude you from donating.

It is possible for a healthy person to give whole blood every 56 days. Donations of platelets or other components of blood may be able to occur more frequently. Individuals who have the universal blood type (Type O-) may want to sign up as frequent donors because their blood can be used for anyone.

Donating a pint of blood can help several different people. With extreme shortages in the blood supply in effect, now could be the ideal time to make a blood donation. SIDEBAR: WHAT DETERMINES BLOOD TYPE?

Blood type is broken down into four main types: A, B, AB and O. Genetics are the primary determining factor in a person’s blood type. A child receives genetic code from both parents at conception, and this information will help determine blood type. Just like eye color, height and hair color, dominant genes will be the deciding factor in blood type. A and B are both dominant over O. A and B are considered to be codominant, which explains the AB blood type. If a child receives two recessive genes from both parents, then he or she will have O blood.

Another thing that plays into blood type is the Rhesus factor, commonly shortened to the Rh factor. This refers to an antigen that exists on the surface of red blood cells. If this antigen is present, it means the person has a Rh positive (+) factor. If there is an absence of this antigen, then the blood is classified as Rh negative (-). Therefore, people can have an A, B, AB, or O blood type that is either (+) or (-). These antigens are proteins that, when introduced into a body that does not have the same type, can cause the person’s immune system to respond by producing antibodies that attack the proteins. Should a person who is Rh- blood receive Rh+ blood during a transfusion, an allergic reaction could occur. Another time when Rh factor comes into play is when an Rh- woman becomes pregnant. Should her blood and the blood of the fetus mix -- and if the fetus has an Rh+ factor -- the mother’s blood may fight off the antigens and naturally produce antibodies. While this won’t hurt the woman, it can affect the fetus and cause potential health problems. Women with an Rhfactor are generally given an Rh immunoglobulin about seven months into the pregnancy that should desensitize her immune system from triggering if the fetus has Rh+ blood. After the baby is born, his or her blood will be tested. Should the Rh factor match the mother, all is well. If not, the mother will receive another injection to further desensitize her immune system to prevent a reaction with any subsequent pregnancies. A person with O- blood is considered a “universal donor.” He or she can transfuse to anyone, and there will be no instances of allergic reaction. However, one with O- blood can only receive O- blood.

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