Platelet Donation Frequently Asked Questions

What is it like to donate platelets?

Platelet donation is a little different than a regular whole blood donation. Here’s how:

  • Platelets can only be donated at select American Red Cross Donation Centers and it requires an appointment. They cannot be given at a blood drive.
  • Platelet donation uses a machine to extract just your platelets and then returns the rest of your blood back to you.
  • From start to finish, it takes about three hours to donate platelets.
  • Both arms are used during a platelet donation. This is because blood is drawn from one arm then the platelets are extracted using a machine, and the remaining blood components are returned to you through the other arm.
  • You will be able to provide in one platelet donation what would normally be collected from up to five whole blood donations. In fact, some platelet donations yield enough platelets for two or three patients.
  • You may be able to donate platelets up to 24 times a year compared to a maximum of 6 times a year for a whole blood donation.
  • Here’s a quick illustration of what happens during a platelet donation:
    • A relatively small amount of blood is drawn from your arm and goes into a machine called a blood cell separator.
    • This blood is rapidly spun, which forces the platelets to separate from the other blood components.
    • These cells then go into a sterile, single-use plastic bag.
    • Meanwhile, the rest of your blood – the plasma, red cells and white cells – is returned to you.
    • This cycle is repeated several times. A single donation of platelets often constitutes several transfusable platelet units.

If I donate platelets, where do they go and who do they help?

  • Platelets are in constant demand by hospitals.
  • After your platelet donation, they are immediately tested and prepared for delivery to a hospital. On average, platelets are transfused within 3 days of donation.
  • Over 1 million platelet transfusions are given to patients in need each year.
  • Every 30 seconds someone in the U.S. needs platelets.
  • Here’s who they help:
    • Platelets give cancer patients the strength they need to keep fighting. While cancer patients undergo treatment, a major side effect is low platelet count.  Without a platelet transfusion cancer patients face life-threatening bleeding because platelets help blood to clot.
    • Platelets also help patients survive major surgeries or serious injuries. After major surgery or serious injury, patients may need platelets to replace those lost during bleeding. Platelets keep them alive while they recover.
    • Platelets give strength to patients with blood disorders and those with transplants. Platelets transfusions go a long way to help keep these patients going and live more active, healthy lives.
  • Because platelets must be used within five days, new donors are needed every day. That’s why we need you.

How long does it take to donate platelets?

  • From start to finish, it takes about three hours to donate platelets. It will take approximately 30 minutes to complete the health history questionnaire and for the machine to be personally set-up for you. From there you can expect to be donating for about two hours followed by enjoying a snack in the refreshment area.
  • This is because it takes time to separate and collect the platelets from the other blood components. During the process, platelets are removed from your blood and other fluids are returned to you.  
  • During your donation you can relax, watch a movie, listen to music…in a few hours you’ll have donated enough platelets to help as many as three patients. 
  • Many donors say platelet donation is their ‘me time’ to unwind from the daily stresses of life while helping save lives.

What are the benefits to donating platelets?

  • Knowing you’re helping cancer patients have a good day when each day counts.
  • A platelet donation can provide a full dose of platelets for a patient, sometimes up to three patients. Many physicians and hospitals prefer it for patients requiring a platelet transfusion.
  • A smaller needle is used for a platelet donation compared to a traditional whole blood donation so some donors find it to be more comfortable.
  • Because you’re getting fluids and red cells back after donating platelets, some donors say they feel less sluggish afterwards. 
  • Many donors say platelet donation is their ‘me time’ to unwind from the daily stresses of life while helping save lives.

How safe is donating platelets?

  • Donating platelets is a safe process.
  • Platelet donations are performed in a highly-controlled environment by professionally trained staff.
  • Each donation is collected through a new, sterile needle that is used once and then discarded.
  • Although most people feel fine after donating platelets, a small number of people may feel lightheaded or dizzy, have an upset stomach or experience a bruise or pain where the needle was inserted.

Does it hurt?

  • Only for a moment. Pinch the fleshy, soft underside of your arm. That pinch is similar to what you will feel when the needle is inserted in each arm.
  • A smaller needle is used for a platelet donation compared to a traditional whole blood donation so some donors find it to be more comfortable.
  • Some donors experience chills as fluids are returned to you. There are blankets available to help keep warm. In addition, some donors may feel a slight tingling sensation. This is a mild response to the anticoagulant used when the blood is returned to your body and can be quickly alleviated with calcium. If this sensation occurs, the staff will give you a calcium supplement like Tums®.

How often can I donate platelets?

Platelets may be donated every seven days, up to 24 times a year. Imagine if every platelet donor gave at least 10 times a year and the impact it would have!

How can I prepare for my platelet donation?

  • You need an appointment to donate platelets. Schedule online, through the free Blood Donor App or by calling 1-800-RED CROSS.
  • You can complete your pre-reading and health history questionnaire online the day of your donation. Simply read, print and bring your RapidPass to your appointment.
  • Please bring your Red Cross donor card or photo I.D. or pull it up via the Blood Donor App.
  • Do not take aspirin products for at least 2 full calendar days prior to your appointment (3 full calendar days in the state of New York). For example, if you take aspirin products on Monday, the soonest you may donate platelets is Thursday (Friday in the state of New York).
  • Plan to be in the donation chair for about three hours to ensure a full donation.
  • Get a good night's rest prior to your donation.
  •  You should consume plenty of calcium-rich foods and beverages for a few days prior to your donation.
  • You may donate platelets every 7 days, up to 24 times a year.
  • Read more about eligibility requirements including travel and medication restrictions.

Who is eligible to donate platelets?

  • At age 16-17 depending on state, individuals in generally good health who meet weight and height requirements may become eligible to donate platelets.
  • Please review our eligibility requirements as some states require parental consent. You can also find more information about travel and medication restrictions.
  • When donating, bring your Red Cross blood donor card or other form of ID.
  • Do not take aspirin products for at least 2 full calendar days prior to your appointment (3 full calendar days in the state of New York). For example, if you take aspirin products on Monday, the soonest you may donate platelets is Thursday (Friday in the state of New York).
  • Eligibility requirements for platelet donation are the same as a whole blood donation. As long as you meet the minimum requirements for donating whole blood you may be able to donate platelets.
  • Recently, it has been discovered that women who have previously been pregnant are more likely to carry antibodies that are believed to sometimes cause post-transfusion complications for blood and platelet recipients.  Until these complications are better understood, the Red Cross will ask new female platelet donors about their pregnancy history and test those that have been pregnant for these antibodies. A positive result has no impact on the health of the donor, however donors who are positive for antibodies may be advised that they are better suited to a whole blood or double red cell donation.

Once I start donating platelets, can I still donate blood?

To make sure you’re helping provide the blood product needed most to hospital patients, we encourage you to focus on donating platelets only.

 

What blood types should donate platelets?

  • All blood types, except for type O negative and type B negative, are encouraged to try platelet donation. Type O negative and type B negative can make the most impact for patients in need by continuing to give whole blood or a double red cell donation.
  • If you are type AB you can make the most impact by donating plasma. It’s similar to donating platelets and is offered at select American Red Cross Donation Centers. When you make a plasma donation, you can donate up to three times the plasma that would be collected during a regular blood or platelet donation, allowing you to make more impact with fewer donations.

Can I donate plasma at the same time as platelets?

  • Yes, if you have type AB blood and your local American Red Cross Donation Center does not currently offer plasma-only donations, platelet donation is your next best option. You can give a platelet and plasma donation at the same time.
  • Only 4% of the U.S. population has type AB blood, which makes it extremely rare.
  • Type AB donors are the universal plasma donor, meaning any patient can receive your AB plasma, regardless of their blood type.


Ready to donate?

Sign Up to Donate Platelets

Call us at 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800­-733-2767) for more information or to schedule an appointment.
You can also download the free Blood Donor App.