Many people with autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, are advised against donating blood.
Many myths and misconceptions surround the ideas of blood and organ donation.
This is especially true for patients with autoimmune diseases.
Some doctors advise patients with illnesses, such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and diabetes, against donating blood.
This is mostly because of medications they are taking and sometimes because of surgical implants.
There is also the issue of infection.
Some autoimmune patients take immunosuppressive drugs and biologics that can raise the risk of infection.
While the federal government currently lists only
This includes the common cold and flu.
Anemia is also common in some rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and autoimmune patients.
This is due to the chronic inflammation in the body that contributes to the depletion of red blood cells. Certain RA medications can also lead to anemia.
Patients with anemia are advised against donating blood.
A disease such as RA or multiple sclerosis (MS) in and of itself is not necessarily an automatic cause for ineligibility when it comes to blood donations.
Folks who are living with diabetes are also typically allowed to donate.
That word, however, doesn’t always get to people with these ailments.
“I have RA and my doctor said I am absolutely not allowed to donate blood at a blood drive. I’ve wanted to but cannot,” Kari W. of Ohio told Healthline.
Sharon, an employee at Vitalant blood services in Pittsburgh, told Healthline, “Depending on your medications, it is fine for rheumatoid patients to donate. In fact, we have a lot of people with RA who do donate regularly. They just have to fill out the health questionnaire form and undergo a little physical.”
She did advise, however, that patients not come in during an active disease flare-up when their inflammation levels are high.
Vitalant, the Red Cross, and other blood bank sites do not list RA or most autoimmune diseases as ineligible medical conditions.
Vitalant’s site does not mention autoimmune diseases specifically, but states, “Most health conditions are acceptable and you may be eligible to donate as long as you meet all other requirements.”
The Red Cross website has a similar statement regarding chronic illnesses: “Most chronic illnesses are acceptable as long as you feel well, the condition is under control, and you meet all other eligibility requirements.”
A nonprofit called the PBCers Organization states on their website, “Patients with most autoimmune diseases cannot donate blood because of so many unknown factors of these diseases.”
PBC, or primary biliary cholangitis, is a rare autoimmune disease that affects the liver.
A health services provider in California, called Providence Health & Services, agrees that autoimmune patients cannot or should not donate blood, stating that people with autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s disease, lupus, MS, and RA have a “permanent deferral” from giving blood.
So, what is the verdict?
Probably, it’s best for RA and autoimmune patients to ask both their personal rheumatologist or specialist as well as the specific blood bank at which they hope to donate blood.
After all, some of the guidelines remain vague.
The National Institutes of Health simply states that donors must be “healthy” — which leaves a lot of room to interpretation.
It also depends largely on if the patient is anemic, and, what type of medications they are on.
Patients with chronic diseases should always consult with their doctor first, and do their homework before signing up to donate blood.