Blood donation

What is blood donation?

Blood donation consists in drawing from a healthy person, called a donor, a certain amount of blood (about 450 ml) which is then transferred to another person who needs a transfusion of one of its components. There are several types of blood donation, depending on different medical needs. The most common type is whole blood donation. A pint of whole blood is donated and then it is separated into its components: red cells, plasma, and platelets.

We are talking about a safe procedure which is almost completely free from side effects as well. Furthermore, blood donation is completely voluntary, it doesn’t need much effort and it is a gesture full of kindness and solidarity.

Blood is an invaluable therapeutic resource since extensive blood transfusions are needed to perform surgery or treat some illnesses.

Who can donate blood? Everyone who is aged from 18 to 65, weighs more than 50 kg and is healthy, can donate blood. Furthermore, according to the law, women can donate only twice a year and men 4 times. How does it work?

Before the donation, the prospective donor will be asked to fill in a medical history which includes direct questions about behaviours which may carry a higher risk of bloodborne infections (infections that are transmitted through the blood) which can also threaten the recipient of the blood. All of the information is kept strictly confidential.

Because of the risk of bloodborne infections, not everyone can donate blood.

Then the donor will have a brief physical exam. The doctor checks the blood pressure, pulse and temperature. A small sample of blood is taken from a finger and is used to check the oxygencarrying component of the blood (haemoglobin level). If the haemoglobin concentration is normal and all the other tests are fine, blood can be donated.

The donor lies in a reclining chair with their arm extended on an armrest. A blood pressure cuff is placed around their upper arm to fill their veins with more blood. This makes the veins easier to see and easier to insert the needle into.

Then a sterile needle is inserted into a vein. This needle is attached to a thin, plastic tube and a blood bag. Then the donor tightens their fist several times to help the blood flow from the vein. The donation takes no more than 12 minutes. When complete, the needle is removed and a plaster is wrapped around their arm.

Another method of donating blood is apheresis where different components of the blood are collected. During apheresis, blood is drawn from one arm and pumped through a machine that separates specific components. The rest of the blood is then returned through a vein in your other arm. It takes longer than standard blood donation.

After donating you sit in an observation area, where you can rest and eat breakfast or a snack. When you are sure you feel fine, you can leave.

Where can you donate?

If you want to be a donor, there are many hospital facilities called transfusion centres you can go to, where blood tests and draws are done. There are about 340 transfusion centres here in Italy.

The coronavirus pandemic caused a decrease in blood donations because people are afraid to be affected by the virus, and this creates an additional problem for the National Health service. It is fundamental that donations go on because there is no risk to the health of donors. Besides, in these centres, safety is of utmost importance. The Italian Higher Institute of Health stated that: ‘In Italy there are more than 1.800 patients who need blood transfusions every day, due to accidents or severe illnesses which require daily transfusions. For these reasons blood donations can’t stop, even if now the healthcare system is facing an emergency such as Sars-CoV-2’. So it is crucial to keep or even start donating.