Afraid to donate blood? We discard the most common myths

Donating blood saves lives. Each year, it is estimated that more than 100 million units of blood are donated worldwide.

However, it is only possible to store it for a limited time, which is why health authorities emphasize the importance of promoting routine blood donation. This can often be hindered by fears or wrong beliefs. Here we explain the truth behind the most common myths related to blood donation.

Myth 1: It can be harmful to your health to donate blood

TRUE: It is possible to feel some tiredness and slight pain in the arm after donating blood. Also, young people and people with low body weight are more likely to feel dizzy, although this can usually be prevented by drinking fluids before donation and eating a snack afterwards.

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Beyond this, the health of people who donate blood is not in danger. It is estimated that within 48 hours after donation, blood volume returns to normal, mainly through an increase in plasma. Within four to eight weeks, the body replaces all of the lost red blood cells.

Myth 2: Donating blood takes a long time

TRUE: This is not true, since, as the health authorities clarify, the blood donation procedure only takes between 8 and 10 minutes. What can vary in time is the registration and processing of donated blood.

Myth 3: It is usually painful to donate blood

TRUE: Although the range of pain varies from person to person, this is considered a myth, as there may only be some pain when the needle is inserted, but it is usually mild and short-lived. After completing the donation, you may experience discomfort or pain at the needle entry site, as well as bruising, but these are harmless and disappear in a matter of days.

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Myth 4: You can get an infection from donating blood

TRUE: Unfortunately, this is another widespread belief that can keep many from donating blood. However, it is nothing more than a myth, since these procedures use sterile techniques to prepare the arm before placing the needle (which is also sterile and only used once). For this reason, there is no chance of getting a blood-borne infection when donating blood.

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Myth 5: You can only donate blood once a year

TRUE: No. Once the blood cells are replenished (this can take up to eight weeks) it is safe to donate blood again. For this reason, health authorities advise that people donate blood every 56 days.

Myth 6: Older adults can’t donate blood

TRUE: Although each country has different rules regarding blood donation, generally, anyone between the ages of 18 and 65 who weighs more than 50 kg (110 pounds) can donate blood without authorization.
Anyone over the age of 70 who has donated blood in the previous 2 years is also eligible to donate.

Myth 7: Those who take medications cannot donate blood

TRUE: People who take certain medications, such as anticoagulants or antiplatelets, should not donate blood. However, in most cases the use of medication does not mean that someone cannot donate blood.

To be safe, talk to a doctor before donating to see if current medications affect your ability to donate.

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Remember: If your doctor has prescribed a medication, you should not stop taking it to donate blood.

Myth 8: People who have tattoos or piercings cannot donate blood

TRUE: Although it is an old widespread belief, it is still false. The health authorities explain that it is safe to donate blood as long as the instruments used for both procedures have been single-use and disposable equipment. In any case, they consider it prudent to wait 3 months (after the piercing) and 6 months (after the tattoo) to donate blood.

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Myth 9: You cannot donate if you have hypercholesterolemia or hypertension

TRUE: People with hypertension can donate blood as long as their blood pressure levels are within the recommended range at the time of doing so: systolic blood pressure less than 180 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) and diastolic blood pressure less than 100 mm Hg.

With regard to hypercholesterolemia, experts say that neither high blood cholesterol levels nor cholesterol-lowering drugs disqualify someone from donating blood.

Myth 10: Vegetarians and vegans cannot donate blood

TRUE: It is often believed that vegetarians or vegans cannot donate blood since it is more common that they do not ingest an adequate amount of iron, so there is a greater risk of anemia. However, this is not an exclusive category and anyone who meets all the health screening requirements to donate blood can be a donor.

Sources consulted: US National Library of Medicine, Mayo Clinic, American Red Cross, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, World Health Organization (WHO).

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