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Blood donation: How to save three lives in a day

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Do you avoid donating blood because you are not sure if it is safe? Ahead of World Blood Donor Day on 14 June, we help clear your doubts

By Shruti Chakraborty


One blood donation can help save the lives of up to three people, according to the American Red Cross. “From one unit of blood, hospitals can use each and every component of the blood, such as the red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, etc., separately,” says S.P. Byotra, senior consultant physician and chairman, department of medicine, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi.

The World Blood Donor Day (14 June) this year is focusing on roping in young donors with the slogan “New Blood for the World”.

According to the World Blood Donor Day website, an overwhelming majority of the world’s population does not have access to safe blood. Over 80 million units of blood are donated every year, but only 38% is collected in developing countries where 82% of the global population lives. Which leaves many in India, for one, reliant on emergency donations from family and friends. And that means delays in treatment.

That’s why doctors are actively encouraging regular blood donation over annual “special” days. “I am a regular donor and must have donated around 47 times at least since I was 18,” says Dr Byotra. “People should donate four times a year.” Which is exactly what Nalin Nag, senior consultant, internal medicine, Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi, does too.

Here’s their ready reckoner for new donors—and hesitant older ones as well.

Safety first

It is a good idea to check the safety and hygiene standards of the local camps before you sign up. “Make sure that the vials and syringes being used are new and they are not reusing their syringes,” says Dr Nag. The attendants and doctors should be wearing gloves while handling the blood and should dispose of syringes and testing plates
immediately after use. People with infectious diseases (even a cold) should not be allowed at the point of donation.
Make sure you have a donor card or other medical documentation of your blood type, or let the doctors check it first. This is to prevent wrong identification, which can have fatal consequences.

Are you good to give?

As a donor, you are responsible for the quality of blood you donate as well as your own health. The basic criteria:
You must be above 18 years of age.
You should not be underweight. “Usually donors weighing more than 45-50kg are acceptable,” says Dr Byotra.
You should not be suffering from any infectious (such as a cold or flu) or chronic diseases (such as diabetes).
You should not have taken any intoxicating drugs, orally or otherwise, that day.
You should not have high blood pressure.

Pregnant or menstruating women are not allowed to donate, says Dr Byotra.

Making up for the blood loss

Many people feel the loss of even a small volume of blood from their bodies must call for special precautions. However, your body has its own protective mechanism.

“It takes around 24 hours for your body to replenish the volume of blood, which is usually 350-400ml (or 1 unit), and the haemoglobin level is usually replenished within 7-10 days,” says Dr Byotra. The actual loss is low enough for you to function normally. So much so that Dr Byotra says he and his colleagues have donated blood while doing their rounds in the hospital, and “immediately resumed our daily duties”.

All you need to do is:
Have a “regular healthy meal” the previous day and on the day of the donation, says Dr Byotra. “Do not fast before you go to give blood,” he says.
Don’t drink alcohol for 48 hours before donation.
Avoid smoking on the day of donation.
Drink plenty of fluids on the day of donation, but avoid caffeine.
Wear something comfortable, with sleeves that can be rolled up.

Most people will not, contrary to fears, feel “drained” after donation. Should a momentary drop in blood pressure leave you a little woozy, just sit down for a while and eat the light snack and beverage you will be offered after donation.

Drink plenty of liquids and juices for the next couple of hours to make up for the fluid loss from donation, particularly in summer.

The donor can go back to work within half an hour of giving blood, but avoid intense physical exertion immediately after, says Dr Nag.

There are no restrictions on the kind of food you can eat. There’s no need to change your diet to add “strength-building” foods. A normal balanced diet is good enough.

If you drink or smoke, there is no rule against their consumption following a donation, “other than the fact that they’re both injurious to health and should be generally avoided”, says Dr Nag.

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