Donating does a lot of good. Blood plasma is needed for many modern medical therapies. These include treatments for immune system conditions, bleeding, and respiratory disorders, as well as blood transfusions and wound healing. Plasma donation is necessary to collect enough plasma for medical treatments.
Donating plasma is mostly a safe process, but side effects do exist. Plasma is a component of your blood. To donate plasma, blood is drawn from your body and processed through a machine that separates and collects the plasma. The other components of the blood, such as the red blood cells, are returned to your body mixed with saline to replace the withdrawn plasma.
Donating plasma can cause common but usually minor side effects like dehydration and fatigue. Serious side effects may occur as well, although these are rare.
Plasma contains a lot of water. For that reason, some people experience dehydration after donating plasma. Dehydration after donating plasma is usually not severe.
Plasma is rich in nutrients and salts. These are important in keeping the body alert and functioning properly. Losing some of these substances through plasma donation can lead to an electrolyte imbalance. This can result in dizziness, fainting, and lightheadedness.
Fatigue can occur if the body has low levels of nutrients and salts. Fatigue after plasma donation is another common side effect, but it’s usually mild.
Bruising and discomfort are among the milder and more common side effects of plasma donation.
When the needle pierces the skin, you may experience a pinching feeling. You may also experience a dull, pulling sensation at the needle site as blood is drawn from your vein, into the tubing, and then into the machine collecting your plasma.
Bruises form when blood flows into soft tissues. This can happen when a needle punctures a vein and a small amount of blood leaks out. For most people, bruises go away in days or weeks. But if you have a bleeding disorder, it may take more time.
Any time a needle is used to pierce the skin, there is always a small risk of infection. Punctured skin tissue allows bacteria from outside the body to get in. The needle may carry bacteria not only beneath the skin’s surface, but into a vein. This can lead to an infection at the injection site and surrounding body tissue or in the blood.
Signs of an infection include skin that feels warm and tender and looks red and swollen, with pain at and around the injection site. If you notice signs of infection, it’s important to see a doctor right away to prevent complications.
A citrate reaction is a very serious but very rare side effect of plasma donation.
During a plasma donation, the technician will infuse a substance known as an anticoagulant into the blood collected in the plasma-separating machine before the blood is returned to your body. This anticoagulant is meant to prevent blood clots from forming. The plasma in the machine retains most of the citrate, but some will also enter your bloodstream.
In the body, citrate binds together a small amount of calcium molecules for a short amount of time. Because this effect is small and temporary, most people experience no side effects from citrate. However, a small number of people who donate plasma experience what’s called a “citrate reaction” from the temporary loss of calcium.
Signs of a citrate reaction include:
- numbness or tingling, especially in the lips, fingers, and toes
- feeling vibrations throughout the body
- experiencing a metallic taste
- muscle twitching
- a rapid or slow pulse
- shortness of breath
If these symptoms are left untreated, they may become more severe. Severe symptoms include:
An arterial puncture is a very rare side effect that can occur any time a needle is used to tap into a vein. During a plasma donation, a technician starts by inserting a needle into a vein in your arm. An arterial puncture can happen when the technician accidentally misses your vein and instead hits an artery. Because arteries have higher blood pressure than veins, a puncture can lead to bleeding into the arm tissues around the puncture site.
The signs of an arterial puncture include a faster blood flow and lighter-than-usual color of blood running through the tubes to the machine collecting your plasma. The needle and tubes used may appear to move or pulsate with the increased blood flow. You may experience weak pain near your elbow.
If the needle accidentally hits an artery, the technician will remove it immediately and hold pressure on the needle insertion site for at least 10 minutes. Continued bleeding from the needle insertion site after holding pressure is rare, but requires emergency medical attention.
Make sure you’re visiting an accredited center. Your donation center should put you through a screening process that involves taking an initial blood test, filling out a questionnaire, and performing a physical exam. A red flag is if your donation center does not go through these processes. Check with the American Red Cross to find the accredited plasma donation center closest to you.
Monitor how frequently you donate. You can donate plasma every 28 days, up to 13 times per year. While the FDA does allow donors to give plasma more frequently, this is the best practice for safety, according to the American Red Cross. The whole process takes about an hour and 15 minutes.
Hydrate before your visit. Drink an extra 16 ounces of clear, nonalcoholic fluids (preferably water) before your donation. This can help prevent dizziness, fainting, lightheadedness, and fatigue, some of the most common side effects associated with plasma donation.