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Donating blood – busting myths

Hospitals across the UK need a staggering 6,000 blood donations every day. However, in order to meet this demand, an additional 190,000 new donors are needed every year. Yet figures show almost half of blood donors are over the age of 45 and 81% of 18-24 year olds have never given blood.

There are many myths surrounding blood donation that often make people wary of donating. Our blood donation myth busters below aims to set the record straight – any of us might need blood in an emergency and we rely on regular, healthy blood donors to ensure that blood is available when we need it.

Giving blood is quick – the donating process takes less than 15 minutes. It really isn’t painful and you go away with such a warm fuzzy feeling realising that you might indeed have just saved someone’s life. You receive a lovely thank you message following your donation telling you where your blood has gone.

Giving blood is quick – the donating process takes less than 15 minutes. It really isn’t painful and you go away with such a warm fuzzy feeling realising that you might indeed have just saved someone’s life. You receive a lovely thank you message following your donation telling you where your blood has gone.

The following common misconceptions are not true

Myth: Giving blood is painful.
Fact: The pain experienced is no more than a needle prick. Consider the slight soreness as a reminder of a good deed done.

Myth: Your health deteriorates after donating blood.
Fact: If you are healthy prior to donation, your recovery should be complete in 24-48 hours. It is advised to rest a while after donating. Drinking enough liquids replaces the lost fluid within a couple of hours. The body produces new blood cells faster after a blood donation. All the red blood cells are replaced within 3-4 days and white blood cells within 3 weeks.

Myth: Giving blood is time consuming.
Fact: As I stated earlier, the time taken for a single donation session is usually less than an hour – the actual blood donation takes less than 15 minutes.

Myth: HIV or other infections can be contracted from donating blood.
Fact: A clear procedure exists for taking blood from each donor. Sterility is maintained at all steps. A sterile, new needle is used for each donation and is then properly discarded. Using sterile equipment and technique limits the chance of infection.

Myth: There is limited amount of blood in the body and it is unhealthy to give any away.
Fact: Only about 350-450ml (1 pint) of blood is taken during a donation session. There is enough blood in the body to donate it without any ill effects. The body makes new blood after donation.

Myth: You can’t donate blood if you are old.
Fact: Anyone up to the age of 60 who is fit and healthy can give blood.

Myth: If needed, blood can be manufactured.
Fact: This is false. Blood isn’t something that can be manufactured. It can only come from healthy human beings.

Myth: Blood can be stored indefinitely
Fact: Blood is a natural product and has a finite shelf life. Hence it is necessary to continually replenish the stock.

Myth: You can’t take part in sports or other physical activities after donating blood.
Fact: Giving blood doesn’t interfere with the ability to perform physically. Immediately after donating, the general advice is to avoid heavy lifting or strenuous workouts for the rest of the day. You can return to your fitness regime the next day.

Myth: Being vegetarian means your blood does not have enough iron to be donating.
Fact: Vegetarians can donate blood. The iron needed is taken from body stores and once a balanced diet is maintained it is replaced after donation. This usually normally takes a month or so.

Myth: Taking medication means you can’t be a blood donor.
Fact: Depending on the medication being taken, it may suspend donation for a time, although in many cases it won’t prevent a donation. Do inform the medical staff of any medication you may be taking before you donate blood.

Myth: Being of mixed race prevents blood from being useful.
Fact: It is the blood type and group that is of importance – not your race or ethnicity. In fact, being an ethnic minority may make you particularly sought after as you might have one of the rarer blood groups needed to treat other people with your blood group.

Myth: It is okay to donate blood if you are on antibiotics.
Fact: You should be recovered from an infection for at least 2 weeks before you give blood. Don’t give blood either if you are feeling unwell such as coming down with a cold or have a cold sore.

Myth: Pregnant women can give blood.
Fact: Women who are pregnant, or those who received a blood transfusion during their pregnancy or during the delivery of their baby, won’t be able to donate blood.

Myth: You can’t give blood if you are on your period.
Fact: You can donate blood when you are menstruating. However if you are having a very heavy period, it may be better to wait until it has finished before donating. This is to ensure you don’t suffer from reduced iron levels that could make you feel unwell in the short term.

Myth: Going on a long-haul holiday affects your ability to donate blood.
Fact: Yes, travel to some parts of the world can affect your ability to give blood. You may have to wait for a period of time after your return before resuming donating.

Myth: You can donate if you have a tattoo or a piercing.
Fact: If you have had a tattoo or body piercing recently you will have to wait a while before you can donate again. UK guidelines specify a lapse of 4 months.

Myth: You can donate blood if you have had acupuncture.
Fact: It can still be possible to donate after acupuncture, however do tell the medical staff why you had the treatment and the certification of the acupuncturist.

Myth: You can only donate blood once a year.
Fact: Men can donate a maximum of four times a year. Women are advised to donate 3 times a year. A 3-month gap between donations is recommended so the body can boost the haemoglobin count up to normal levels.

Myth: You have no idea where your blood goes.
Fact: After your blood donation, you will receive a text message to let you know which hospital your blood has been sent to.

Emma Hammett

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5 years ago

Emma, thank you for this nice information. However, keeping in view what you have stated in your article: 81% of 18-24 year olds have never given blood., I would have imagined you inspiring that particular age group to donate blood but you have not done that. Thanks any way.

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