There’s no doubt that donating blood can do a lot of good: Donating just one pint of blood can save more than one person’s life, according to the American Red Cross. About 36,000 pints of blood are needed every day in the United States, and 6.8 million people donate a year. But blood donation isn’t without its disadvantages. Each donor is given a mini physical examination, but there are still some minor side effects that could occur. These include:
- continued bleeding
- dizziness, lightheadedness, and nausea
- physical weakness
Donating blood is a safe process, but there are some things you should know before you donate. Here’s a closer look at the disadvantages to consider before donating blood.
When you donate blood, you sit or lie on a reclining chair with your arm extended on an armrest. A healthcare provider will place a blood pressure cuff or tourniquet around your upper arm to fill your veins with more blood. After cleaning the skin on the inside of one of your elbows, the provider will insert a sterile needle attached to a thin plastic tube and blood bag into one of your veins. The needle is kept in your arm for about 10 minutes, or for the duration of your blood donation.
When a needle pricks a vein, there’s always a chance that some bruising will occur around the site where the needle was inserted. For that reason, bruising is common among blood donors.
Bruises range in color from yellow to blue to purple. Mild to moderate bruising is usually not something to worry about. If you experience bruising, apply a cold pack to the bruised area every few hours for several minutes during the first 24 hours after you donate blood.
When a blood donation is complete, a healthcare provider will remove the needle from your vein and place a bandage on the needle site. They will wrap your arm with a dressing. The bandage and pressure of the dressing is meant to stop the blood flow out of your vein. Your nurse will instruct you to keep your bandage and dressing in place for at least four to five hours to ensure bleeding is stopped.
Sometimes bleeding still occurs after the bandage and dressing are kept in place for several hours. In this case, it’s important to place pressure on the needle site and keep your arm raised above your heart for three to five minutes. If the bleeding doesn’t stop after that time, you should contact your doctor.
After your donation is complete, you will be told to sit in an observation area for 15 minutes. There you will have the opportunity to rest, drink fluids — usually water or fruit juice — and eat a light snack. Eating, drinking, and resting are known to alleviate some of the dizziness, lightheadedness, and nausea that are associated with donating blood. Most people experience at least mild versions of these side effects.
If you feel dizzy, lightheaded, or nauseous after the rest period part of your donation, lie down with your feet up until you begin to feel better. Call your blood donation center if you continue to experience these symptoms several hours after you’ve made your donation.
Donating blood isn’t a pain-free experience. You may experience pain when the needle is inserted into your arm. You shouldn’t feel any pain while the blood is being drawn, but you may experience an uncomfortable sensation at the site where the needle is inserted into your arm.
You may also feel pain at the needle insertion site after your donation, especially if your arm is bruised. If you experience soreness after your donation, you might want to take a pain reliever that contains acetaminophen.
After donating blood, it’s likely you’ll experience some physical weakness, especially in the arm into which the needle was injected. For that reason, the nurses will advise you to avoid intense physical activity or heavy lifting for five hours after you donate blood.
Donating blood can be a time-consuming process: It can take about an hour and 15 minutes, from the time you arrive to the time you leave. That includes the testing and paperwork process beforehand, where you’ll receive a physical exam and initial finger prick blood test and will need to fill out some documents. Afterward, you’ll need to sit for a 15-minute rest period. However, the blood-drawing process itself only takes about 10 minutes. Many donation centers also offer a RapidPass that you can do beforehand that will help save time.
While donating blood can cause minor side effects, it’s an extremely helpful act that can do a lot of good. In the United States, someone needs blood every two seconds.
The most sought-after donors are those with type O blood, because they’re considered “universal donors” whose blood can be matched with those belonging to any of the four blood types: A, B, AB, and O.
If you’re thinking of donating blood, you should weigh the disadvantages with the advantages and make a decision that makes sense for you.