What are blood donations and how are they used?

Blood donations are a voluntary process where persons give their blood in a simple procedure. The blood collected can be used in research or for transfusions to a patient. Most of the blood donated is used for the treatment of patients with conditions such as anaemia, cancer, and blood disorders. It plays a vital part in their treatment; it could also be used in emergencies or palliative care.

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The blood can be given as whole blood or broken down into constituent parts such as platelets and plasma. This is done by spinning it in a centrifuge and removing the white blood cells to reduce any immune reactions in the recipient. In the laboratory, the blood will be tested to establish your blood type as well as to identify any possible infectious diseases. The blood is stored in a blood bank until it is needed.

Who can donate?

There are strict rules on who can give blood to ensure the safety of both the donors and recipients. It’s a requirement that you weigh over 50kg, are aged 17 and over (further rules apply for those aged 66+) and are healthy. You can check your eligibility at https://my.blood.co.uk/Check/0

Common reasons that may affect your eligibility to donate include:

  • Recent travel outside the UK
  • Certain procedures such as tattoos and piercings
  • If you are taking medication or under hospital treatment 
  • If you are pregnant or recently given birth

The Process of giving Blood

Blood Samples

A blood sample is taken at the time of donation for subsequent analysis in laboratory screening tests. These tests are to ensure any transfused blood is safe and to blood type the donation so it can be matched with a recipient. The blood can be routinely checked for signs of diseases (current or previous) through computerised checks. Any positive results are subsequent to further analysis and positive signs of disease can be communicated back to the donor from a clinician and possibly referred to a GP or specialist. Examples of diseases investigated are presented below:


Whilst the obvious benefit of blood donations being collected is for transfusions in patients there are many other benefits. Due to the tests carried out after donation, it is essentially an extra health check for testing of disease in addition to the physical checks (such as haemoglobin levels) at the time of donation. Perhaps surprisingly, blood donation is linked to lower blood pressure and therefore lowers your risk of a heart attack. This is essentially due to the donation reducing the ‘thicknesses’ of blood which lowers the chance of blood clots forming. The blood donated can be used to save three lives which benefit multiple people and, altruistic people have been shown to live longer, happier lives. Even if the donation isn’t used right away, it is stored in a blood bank which is essential to keep stocked to deal with surges in demand.

The donated blood can be used in a plethora of treatments. Regular blood donations may be involved in the treatment regime of someone with sickle cell anaemia. This disorder affects the red blood cell’s protein structure leading to reduced oxygen levels in the blood. The transfusion can help improve oxygen levels in anaemic patients who have few alternative treatments currently. In severe burns patients, the resultant inflammatory reaction can lead to burn shock. Plasma products can be used as a fluid resuscitation to stabilise the affected endothelium and avoid the significant results of burn shocks. Plasma was even used during the world wars to this effect.

Why people might not donate and what are the alternatives?

There are several reasons people may not want to donate. This could be due to misinformation such as believing donation could lead to contracting an infection or that taking any medications disqualifies you from donating. It is important to research properly from a non-biased source before donating. Religious views may also affect whether someone will donate blood or be a recipient of it. Jehovah’s witnesses may believe that receiving blood violates their right to freely practice religion in addition to privacy rights.

For people who do not want to receive donated blood, some alternatives may help treat blood loss. Tranexamic acid can be used to help blood clot better leading to less overall blood loss during surgery. Erythropoietin may also be used before surgery to stimulate the body into producing more red blood cells. If the surgery is expected to involve a lot of blood loss, cell savage may be used to collect the blood lost using specialist equipment and transfuse the persons own blood back. However, there are currently no good alternatives that benefit patients suffering from blood loss other than transfusions using donated blood.

  • You will be seated on a donation chair and a cuff placed on your arm to maintain pressure throughout the donation
  • You can choose which arm the donation is taken from, the staff will identify a vein and clean the area with antiseptics.
  • A needle will be placed in the arm and donation will cease after you have donated 470ml of blood.
  • Once at the appointment, a member of staff will check your donor health check form and then test a drop of blood to check your haemoglobin levels are sufficient. At this point, you will be told if you can carry on with the donation process.
  • Appointments can be booked online, via the Give Blood app or by calling 0300 123 23 23
  • Before arriving at the appointment, it’s important to make sure you are hydrated. Eating a small snack beforehand or eating foods rich in iron should minimise any dizziness after donation
  • These viruses infect the liver and can be present without symptoms or present with mild inflammation to chronic inflammation
  • If left untreated it can eventually lead to AIDS which is a life-long syndrome. Tests look for both the antibody and virus itself
  • A bacterial disease which can lead to serious disease if left untreated; treatment is possible with antibiotics and full recovery can be achieved. Antibodies remain in the body after infection but any positive result will mean the blood donated can’t be used
  • Transmitted by mosquito bites. A positive result confirms antibodies but doesn’t mean there is an active infection. The disease is a major cause of death in areas of the world
  • Afterwards it is advised that you rest and keep pressure on your arm for about 30 minutes.
  • The arm may ache afterwards, and a small bruise may appear

This news blog was written on behalf of Medicine Drop. The views in this blog are that of the authors and you should not take the information as factual without speaking to your GP or Pharmacist for health advice.