World Blood Donor Day: the quick guide to giving blood

June 14th, 2018 by Claudia Dols Wong & Joe Lofts

Perhaps you’ve decided that you want to give blood. If so, congratulations. You’ll be providing one of the most important public services of your life. In fact, there’s a very good chance that this small act of generosity might even save the life of another.

Maybe you’re considering donating blood, but you’ve got a host of legitimate questions about the process that might be putting you off for the time being. Am I eligible to give blood? How long does it take? Is it painful? Will I feel any side effects?

Whatever your outlook, this informative guide will answer all the queries you might have about blood donation - meaning you’ll go to your appointment confident in the knowledge that you’re doing good in the world.

Blood donation rules

The majority of people can give blood. You can donate blood if you are:

If you’re eligible, your next question might be how often you can give blood. Men can give blood every 12 weeks while women can give blood every 16 weeks. More information on eligibility criteria can be found here.

If you are still unsure about your eligibility, check with your GP beforehand. They will be able to give you sound guidance on the donation process.

What to expect on the day


Upon arrival, you’ll be screened to double check that your haemoglobin levels are high enough for you to donate. This is for your own benefit as much as the recipient’s, as the donation process shouldn’t cause damage to either of your health. If cleared, you’ll be given a drink of 500 ml to preempt your 470 ml blood donation. A cuff will be placed on your upper arm and you are ready for needle insertion!

Most people don’t watch this part. It’s entirely up to you. However, don’t be surprised to notice that the needle is slightly bigger than what you’re used to seeing in blood tests. This is simply because the volume of blood being taken is larger and does not make the process more uncomfortable.

You may be asked to clench your fist throughout the donation to maintain blood pressure in your arm.

Once you have completed your donation, you’ll be offered refreshments and given a donation sticker. When you’ve fully recovered (this shouldn’t take longer than 15-20 mins), you’re free to go.

How will I feel after the donation?


Side-effects aren’t uncommon but shouldn’t be a cause for alarm.

Make sure to take full advantage of the free tea and biscuits on offer and avoid hot baths immediately following the donation, as this will help to relieve any feelings of lightheadedness or dizziness.

Bruising around the insertion site can be taken care of using a simple RICE treatment (rest, ice, compression, elevation) and should disappear within a couple of weeks at the absolute latest. Rest as much as you need and avoid heavy lifting with your donation arm.

How long does it take to give blood?

The donation itself takes between 8 and 10 minutes on average. The whole process - from the time you arrive to the time you leave - takes around an hour.

It may be an idea to bring a friend along on the donation day and perhaps even convince them to donate too.

How is donated blood used?


The majority of donated blood is used for those with medical conditions such as leukemia or anaemia. A portion is used in surgery and a fraction to replace blood lost following childbirth.

Another important and underestimated use for blood is transfusions for the terminally ill, improving their quality of life throughout their last few days.

Even blood that has expired or been mishandled can be useful for quality control assessment or research. So you can rest assured that every drop of blood that you donate will be put to good use.

Further information

For more on blood donation, Give Blood UK is a great resource. You can easily book your blood donation appointment online here.

This HuffPost UK article explains the importance of giving blood when you’re in your twenties.

This article highlights the increasing need for BAME donors.

This personal account of blood donation exemplifies how one charitable act can literally save a life.

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