Whole blood, plasma, and platelet donations play an important role in fulfilling the need for blood and blood components at many hospitals and treatment facilities around the world.

While the American Red Cross only allows individuals to donate plasma once every 28 days, private plasma donation companies may allow individuals to make donations multiple times a week.

Read on to learn the importance of plasma donations, how often you can donate plasma, and what you need to know about the side effects of donating plasma.

Plasma donations through the American Red Cross can only be made once every 28 days, or up to 13 times each year.

But most private plasma-donation companies allow people to donate plasma more frequently — up to multiple times a week.

Plasma donation companies that operate on a pay-per-donation system offer financial incentives for donors. For many, frequent plasma donation is a lucrative way to earn extra money.

Too frequent donations may impact quality

But research suggests that frequent donations may negatively impact the quality of the plasma. This may be due to limitations in the body’s ability to quickly regenerate important components of the plasma.

In a 2010 study, researchers investigated and compared the plasma quality of donations from various countries.

They found that in the United States, plasma from people who donated more frequently and in higher volumes was significantly lower in total protein, albumin, and other blood markers.

Whether it’s to help fight against COVID-19 or to add an extra stream of income, plasma donation, especially frequent donation, should always be done under the supervision of your doctor.

Your doctor can review your medical history, keep a close eye on your blood tests, and let you know the safest way to donate your plasma.

Although people of all blood types can donate plasma, AB plasma donations are among the most important. This is because AB plasma is “universal,” meaning that it can be administered to patients of all blood types.

In addition, a type of plasma called convalescent plasma may be able to be donated by people who have recovered from a disease.

Once donated, this antibody-containing plasma may be used as a potential disease treatment option for infected individuals.

Convalescent plasma has been researched as a potential treatment option for COVID-19, but has been a source of controversy in the medical community.

Not everyone is eligible to donate blood or plasma.

Here are the most common factors that may disqualify you from donating your plasma:

  • Illness. People who have a fever, productive cough, or are feeling generally unwell shouldn’t donate. This also applies to people who are currently receiving antibiotics for active infections.
  • Medical conditions. There are 23 conditions that the American Red Cross considers when screening blood donors. Certain chronic illnesses, such as hepatitis and HIV, automatically disqualify someone from donating. Other active conditions, such as tuberculosis, must be treated first for a certain amount of time before an individual can donate blood or plasma.
  • Low iron. Low iron or hemoglobin levels often disqualify someone from being able to donate whole blood or platelets. But since plasma donation doesn’t remove blood cells, you may still be able to donate plasma even with lower iron levels.
  • Medications. Certain medical treatments and procedures, such as blood transfusions and surgeries, may affect whether someone can donate plasma or not. Ask your doctor before donating plasma if you’re currently undergoing treatment for an illness.
  • Travel. People who have traveled to certain areas of the world may be more likely to be infected with a disqualifying illness, such as the Ebola or Zika virus.

Check the American Red Cross’ full list of eligibility criteria on their website if you’re interested in donating plasma.

Plasma donation is a safe, comfortable, and relatively easy process for most people who donate.

When you arrive for your appointment, the nurses will make sure you’re comfortable and feeling well enough to go through with the donation process.

Once you’re all settled in, you’ll be hooked up to a plasmapheresis machine. This machine works by removing your blood, separating out the plasma, and returning the blood back to your body.

Plasma donations should always be performed in a qualified facility that utilizes sterilized equipment.

Certified nurses will be available before, during, and after the entire procedure to ensure that everything is running smoothly.

Plasma donation can be done more frequently than whole blood donation because a portion of the blood is returned to the body.

For some people, this makes plasma donation easier — and less likely to cause side effects — than whole blood donation.

And while there are generally no financial incentives for whole blood donations, private companies often pay donors for plasma donations.

This distinction isn’t a hard and fast rule. But paying for whole blood donations isn’t the industry standard.

The chart below outlines some of the major differences between whole blood vs. plasma donations.

Whole BloodPlasma
Frequencyonce every 56 daysonce every 28 days
Lengthroughly 1 hourroughly 1 hour
Usestrauma and surgical patientstrauma patients and research
Incentivesunpaid (usually)paid

Human blood has two primary components: blood cells and plasma.

Red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets make up the cellular component of blood. Water, proteins, sugars, fats, and other nutrients make up the plasma component of blood.

Blood plasma has a variety of important functions inside the body:

Plasma donation is important because blood plasma can be used to help treat people who have experienced:

For most people, there are very few side effects associated with donating plasma.

But potential side effects may include:

After donating plasma, the nurses will check in to see how you’re feeling and if you’re experiencing any side effects.

Once you’re cleared, you’ll be given something to eat and drink before heading on your way. For the next day or so, it’s important to make sure to rehydrate and avoid doing too much strenuous activity.

If you’re experiencing any other concerning side effects, such as pain or fever, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible.

The American Red Cross allows people to donate plasma up to 13 times per year. But some private companies allow donors to donate plasma much more frequently.

Whole blood, plasma, and platelet donations are always in high need at hospitals and other treatment facilities. Ask your doctor to make sure that you’re healthy and able to donate before you decide to do so.