The Basics of Blood Donation

Nervous about giving blood? Learn what to expect.

Donating blood can save a life. No chemical, drug or fluid can replace human blood in a real emergency. If you've never donated blood before, you might be nervous. Here's what to expect.


What to expect when you donate blood


Step 1: Registration and health checkup
When you arrive at a blood donation center or blood drive, you'll be asked to register. You will fill out a form with some basic information including your name, date of birth and social security number. You will also need to show an ID card.

Next, you'll talk with a health technician. She or he will ask you some questions about your general health and lifestyle to make sure you are eligible to donate blood. You will be asked questions about your sexual activities, any intravenous drug use or if you have symptoms or a diagnosis of viral hepatitis.

It's important to be complete and truthful when giving information. This is both for your safety and the safety of those who may receive your blood. All information you provide is kept confidential.

Finally, you will fill out a form, in private, where you can acknowledge whether your blood is safe to donate.

Before you give blood, a technician will take your temperature, check your blood count and pulse, and measure your blood pressure. These checks are to make sure, again, that you are healthy enough to donate blood.


Step 2: Donating blood
First you will sit or lie down on a cot. A technician will clean an area of your arm where blood will be drawn. He or she will check the area to find the best vein from which to draw blood. The vein often becomes visible after gently tapping the area with a finger or squeezing a small ball or roll of gauze. The technician will also tie a rubber band (the tourniquet) around your upper arm to swell the vein briefly for puncture.

A needle is gently inserted into the vein and blood slowly flows through a tube into a bag for storage. It usually takes 10 to 20 minutes to fill a bag of blood. You'll sit quietly relaxing during this process.


Step 3: Rest and recovery
After your blood donation is complete, you spend a few minutes resting and having juice and a snack. It's important to stick around the donation site for 10 to 15 minutes to make sure you feel OK. After blood donation, a few people may feel weak, dizzy or faint from the drop in blood pressure.

There is almost no risk to donating blood. Less than 10 percent of your blood is removed, and the body quickly makes new blood to replace it.


What happens to my blood?
Blood is separated into three components: red blood cells, which can be stored for 42 days; platelets, which last five days; and plasma, which can be frozen for as long as one year.

You can give whole blood every eight weeks. The time between donation of different blood components like plasma or platelets varies.

Type O blood is the most commonly used because it can be safely transfused to people of all blood types.


Do I qualify to donate?
Generally, you can give blood if you:

  • Are at least 17 years old
  • Weigh at least 110 pounds
  • Are in good health

To make a donation, call one of these numbers:

  • National Red Cross hotline at 800-GIVE-LIFE
  • America's Blood Centers at 888-256-6388
  • AABC at 866-376-6968