Iron Info for Frequent Donors
Iron and Blood Donation
Donating a unit of whole blood or double red cells (2 units) removes iron from your body. You need iron to make new red blood cells. Losing iron through blood donation may affect your health.
The American Red Cross now recommends that individuals who give blood on a regular basis should take a multivitamin with iron or an iron supplement to replace the iron lost with blood donation.
If you fall into one of the following groups then you are considered a frequent blood donor:
- Women 16 to 50- years-old who donate 2 or more units a year
- Women older than 50 who donate 3 or more units a year
- Men who donate 3 or more units a year
Note: A whole blood donation is one unit of blood; a double red cell donation is 2 units of blood. For example, a man who gives 2 double red cell donations (4 units) a year is a frequent blood donor.
- Eat a healthy balanced diet containing iron rich foods
- Take a multivitamin with iron in it or an iron supplement to replace the iron lost with blood donation
- Discuss your iron level, how much you donate blood, and if you need to take an iron supplement with your doctor.
- Tiredness and irritability
- Reduced endurance during exercise or everyday activities
- Difficulty concentrating
- Pica, (a craving to chew things such as ice or chalk)
Current recommendations range from 19 mg (the amount of iron in a typical multivitamin with iron) to 45 mg (the amount in elemental iron caplets) for 6 weeks to 3 months. Follow all directions on the product package, or take as directed by your doctor or pharmacist.
Do not take more than the recommended dosage because higher doses may be harmful. If you are uncertain about any of the information, consult your doctor or pharmacist.
Lower doses are associated with few or no side effects but take a longer period of time to achieve full iron replacement. The length of time you should take iron after each blood donation depends on the amount of elemental iron in each dose.
Here are some examples of different strategies for the dose of iron and the amount of time needed for iron replacement:
9 mg (every day for 32 weeks)
18 mg (every day for 16 weeks)
27 mg (every day for 10 weeks)
38 mg (every day for 8 weeks)
Accidental ingestion of iron by children can result in their death. Keep all iron-containing products out of the reach of children. Individually-packaged pills and childproof bottles may prevent poisoning. In case of suspected ingestion, call an emergency room or poison control center immediately.
Iron supplements may be harmful to people with iron overload syndromes, such as hereditary hemachromatosis. If you have been diagnosed with iron overload or hereditary hemachromatosis, or you know someone in your family with the condition, please discuss iron balance with your physician. The American Red Cross does not currently accept as blood donors those individuals who are being treated for iron overload by a physician.