How Often Can You Donate Blood

Thinking about donating blood for the first time? Or maybe it's been a while since you've given blood. We're here to help you feel comfortable by answering all of your questions on the requirements to give blood and the actual process.

Did you know that about 29,000 units of red blood cells are needed every day in the U.S., according to the American Red Cross? The average adult has about 10 pints of blood in his body. Roughly one pint is given during a donation. But yet your one pint of blood can impact the lives of eight people.

The people who need blood aren't always the "stereotypical" trauma-related patients – the ones in motor vehicle accidents or serious surgeries. Many depend on blood transfusions for improved quality of life – people like chemotherapy patients. That's why there's always a need for blood donations, and you can positively impact that need.

Current American Red Cross Requirements to Donate Blood

donating blood

How often can you donate blood?

The American Red Cross advises that healthy donors may donate whole red blood cells every 56 days (eight weeks) or Power Red every 112 days (16 weeks). Power Red donation uses a special machine to allow you to safely donate two units of red blood cells during one donation while returning your plasma and platelets to you.

A healthy donor may donate platelets as few as seven days apart, but a maximum of 24 times a year. Both arms are used during a platelet donation because one arm extracts the blood and runs it through a special machine, which removes the platelets, then sends the remaining blood components back out of the device and into the opposite arm.

Who can give blood?

In addition to registration, there is a short mini-physical involved with any blood donation. This is to ensure the person meets the requirements to give blood. These requirements vary depending on which type of donation you wish to pursue (for example, giving whole blood versus plasma, platelets, or Power Red). Most people give whole blood, so we will refer to whole blood donation requirements when answering the questions below. 

At a minimum, a person needs to be in good general health and feeling well to donate blood. They must also be at least 17 years old (however, some state laws allow 16-year-olds to donate blood with parental consent). Marisa Munafo, BSN, R.N., Education Specialist at Firelands Regional Medical Center, organizes the blood drives for the organization. Below, she'll give more details to the question: who can give blood?

  • How much do you have to weigh to give blood?
  • Whole blood donors should weigh at least 110 lbs. Additional weight requirements apply for donors 18 years and younger and all high school donors. These other weight requirements depend on a person's height.
  • Can people with diabetes donate blood?
  • In most cases, yes. Your diabetes should be under control (meaning you have safe blood sugar levels), and you should be in generally good health. If you are unsure whether you meet this requirement, talk to your doctor before giving blood.
  • Can you give blood if you have high blood pressure?
  • Yes, you can donate blood if you have high blood pressure as long as your blood pressure is managed with medication.
  • Can you donate blood if you are on medication?
  • You can donate if you take medicine for high cholesterol. Anti-depressant medicine and heart medication are also acceptable.
  • Can you give blood if you smoke marijuana?
  • There is no harm in donating blood if you smoke marijuana; however, Firelands Regional Medical Center and the American Red Cross do not condone smoking cannabis and donating blood.
  • Can you donate blood if you have a tattoo?
  • Yes. A person with a tattoo could donate blood if the tattoo were applied by a state-regulated entity using sterile needles and ink that is not reused. In Ohio, tattoo establishments are state-regulated. The only states that are not regulated are Georgia, Idaho, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah, Wyoming, and the District of Columbia. In the past, a person would have to wait 12 months before giving blood after getting a tattoo, but the current wait is three months after a tattoo.
  • Can you donate blood if you have a cold? Or the flu?
  • No. You should be feeling healthy when you donate blood. The National Institutes of Health says that you should be free of cold and flu symptoms for at least 48 hours before giving blood.

Now that we've covered many of the eligibility requirements to donate blood let's answer other questions, such as how long it takes to donate blood and where to give it near you.

How long does it take to donate blood, and what's the process?

The physical part of donating blood takes about ten minutes, but the entire process can take up to an hour. That's because it includes registration, a mini-physical to ensure you meet the eligibility requirements to donate blood, the blood donation, and light refreshments before you leave to ensure your body is replenished with fluids.

Make sure to take care of yourself leading up to the blood draw. Get a good night's rest the night before, drink plenty of fluids, and eat a healthy breakfast that morning. It's a good idea to drink an extra glass of water within 10 to 30 minutes before you donate. 

If you're nervous about donating blood, don't worry. You may feel a quick pinch or a sense of discomfort from the needle, but it happens quickly, and the pain should go away as the blood is drawn. You can look away if you don't want to see the blood or worry about getting queasy. Please tell the phlebotomist if you have a history of nausea or fainting during blood donations.

Where to Give Blood

The number one reason donors say they give blood is that they "want to help others." You have the opportunity to help others by attending an American Red Cross Blood Drive at Firelands Regional Medical Center multiple times a year. Visit firelands.com/classes-events for more information.

Blood drives are held at South Campus, 1912 Hayes Ave., Sandusky, in the Education classroom (first floor). Pre-registration is required. Schedule online at redcrossblood.org or call 1-800-RED-CROSS.