Donation FAQs

Donation Process

How does the blood donation process work?

Donating blood is a simple thing to do, but can make a big difference in the lives of others. The donation process from the time you arrive until the time you leave takes about an hour. The donation itself is only about 8-10 minutes on average. The steps in the process are:


  1. You will complete donor registration, which includes information such as your name, address, phone number, and donor identification number (if you have one).
  2. You will be asked to show a donor card, driver’s license or two other forms of ID.

Health History and Mini Physical

  1. You will answer some questions during a private and confidential interview about your health history and the places you have traveled.
  2. You will have your temperature, hemoglobin, blood pressure and pulse checked.


  1. We will cleanse an area on your arm and insert a brand–new, sterile needle for the blood draw. This feels like a quick pinch and is over in seconds.
  2. You will have some time to relax while the bag is filling. (For a whole blood donation, it is about 8-10 minutes. If you are donating platelets, red cells or plasma by apheresis the collection can take up to 2 hours.)
  3. When approximately a pint of blood has been collected, the donation is complete and a staff person will place a bandage on your arm. 
  1. You will spend a few minutes enjoying refreshments to allow your body time to adjust to the slight decrease in fluid volume. 
  2. After 10-15 minutes you can then leave the donation site and continue with your normal daily activities. 
  3. Enjoy the feeling of accomplishment knowing that you have helped to save lives.

Your gift of blood may help up to three people. Donated red blood cells do not last forever. They have a shelf-life of up to 42 days. A healthy donor may donate every 56 days.

What should I do after donating blood?

After you give blood:

  • Take the following precautions:
    – Drink an extra four glasses (eight ounces each) of non-alcoholic liquids.
    Keep your bandage on and dry for the next five hours, and do not do heavy exercising or lifting.
    If the needle site starts to bleed, raise your arm straight up and press on the site until the bleeding stops.
    Because you could experience dizziness or loss of strength, use caution if you plan to do anything that could put you or others at risk of harm. For any hazardous occupation or hobby, follow applicable safety recommendations regarding your return to these activities following a blood donation.
    Eat healthy meals and consider adding iron-rich foods to your regular diet, or discuss taking an iron supplement with your health care provider, to replace the iron lost with blood donation.
  • If you get a bruise:  Apply ice to the area intermittently for 10-15 minutes during the first 24 hours. Thereafter, apply warm, moist heat to the area intermittently for 10-15 minutes. A rainbow of colors may occur for about 10 days.
  • If you get dizzy or lightheadedStop what you are doing, lie down, and raise your feet until the feeling passes and you feel well enough to safely resume activities.
  • And remember to enjoy the feeling of knowing you have helped save lives!
  • Schedule your next appointment.
  • If this is your first donation, expect your American Red Cross Donor Card in the mail within 6-8 weeks.

Will it hurt when you insert the needle?

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.

How long does a blood donation take?

The entire process takes about one hour and 15 minutes; the actual donation of a pint of whole blood unit takes eight to 10 minutes. However, the time varies slightly with each person depending on several factors including the donor’s health history and attendance at the blood drive.

How long will it take to replenish the pint of blood I donate?

The plasma from your donation is replaced within about 24 hours. Red cells need about four to six weeks for complete replacement. That’s why at least eight weeks are required between whole blood donations.

Why does the Red Cross ask so many personal questions when I give blood?

The highest priorities of the Red Cross are the safety of the blood supply and our blood donors. Some individuals may be at risk of transferring communicable disease through blood donation due to exposure via travel or other activities or may encounter problems with blood donation due to their health. We ask these questions to ensure that it is safe for patients to receive your blood and to ensure that it is safe for you to donate blood that day. .

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How often can I donate blood?

You must wait at least eight weeks (56 days) between donations of whole blood and 16 weeks (112 days) between Power Red donations. Platelet apheresis donors may give every 7 days up to 24 times per year. Regulations are different for those giving blood for themselves (autologous donors).

Who can donate blood?

In most states, donors must be age 17 or older. Some states allow donation by 16-year-olds with a signed parental consent form. Donors must weigh at least 110 pounds and be in good health. Additional eligibility criteria apply.

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Platelet Donations

What is apheresis?

Apheresis is the process by which platelets and other specific blood components (red cells or plasma) are collected from a donor. The word “apheresis” is derived from the Greek word aphaeresis meaning “to take away.” This process is accomplished by using a machine called a cell separator. Blood is drawn from the donor and the platelets, or another blood component, are collected by the cell separator and the remaining components of the blood are returned to the donor during the donation. Each apheresis donation procedure takes about one-and-one-half to two hours. Donors can watch movies or relax during the donation.

What are platelets and how are they used?

Platelets are tiny, colorless, disc-shaped particles circulating in the blood, and they are essential for normal blood clotting. Platelets are critically important to the survival of many patients with clotting problems (aplastic anemia, leukemia) or cancer, and patients who will undergo organ transplants or major surgeries like heart bypass grafts. Platelets can only be stored for five days after being collected. Maintaining an adequate supply of this lifesaving, perishable product is an ongoing challenge.

How often can I give platelets?

Every 7 days up to 24 apheresis donations can be made in a year. Some apheresis donations can generate two or three adult-sized platelet transfusion doses from one donation!

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Blood Safety

Is it safe to give blood?

Donating blood is a safe process. Each donor’s blood is collected through a new, sterile needle that is used once and then discarded. Although most people feel fine after donating blood, 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. Extremely rarely, loss of consciousness, nerve damage or artery damage occur.

Can I get HIV from donating blood?

No. Sterile procedures and disposable equipment are used in all Red Cross donor centers. We use a needle only once and then dispose of it. You cannot contract HIV or other viral disease by donating blood.

What tests are administered to ensure my blood is safe to distribute to patients?

Blood donations are tested for the following:

  • ABO and Rh blood types.
  • Unexpected red blood cell antibodies that are a result of prior transfusion, pregnancy, or other factors.
  • Hepatitis B surface antigen, indicating a current infection (hepatitis) or carrier state for hepatitis B virus.
  • Antibody to hepatitis B core antigen, indicator of a present or past infection with the hepatitis B virus.
  • Antibody to hepatitis C virus, indicating a current or past infection with hepatitis C virus (most common cause of non-A/non-B hepatitis).
  • Antibody to HTLV-I/II, indicator of infection with a virus that may cause adult T-cell leukemia or neurological disease.
  • Antibody to HIV-1/2, indicator of infection with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
  • Nucleic Acid Test (NAT) for hepatitis C (HCV), hepatitis B (HBV) and HIV.
  • Screening test for antibodies to syphilis.
  • NAT for West Nile Virus (WNV).
  • Enzyme-linked immunoassay (ELISA) test for Trypanosoma cruzi (Chagas Disease).

In addition, all platelet apheresis donations are tested for bacterial contamination.

Is it true that I can get a free AIDS test when I donate blood?

You should not give blood to get tested for AIDS. Using blood donation as a way to get tested could put the blood supply at risk and endanger patients. HIV antibodies may take a few weeks to develop after infection with the virus. If you were recently infected, you might have a negative test result, yet be able to infect the recipient of your donation. That is why you must not give blood if you are at risk of getting AIDS or other infectious diseases. Individuals at risk for contracting HIV should contact their local health department for AIDS testing.

If my blood tests HIV-positive, will I be informed about the result?

Yes. Donors who are confirmed positive for any infectious disease are notified and have the opportunity to receive counseling with a specially trained, professional Red Cross donor counselor.

How will the Red Cross contact me if I have a disease?

The Red Cross regards blood test results as private and confidential information. The Red Cross may contact you by letter or call to arrange a counseling appointment, but the Red Cross does not disclose information regarding positive blood test results to anyone but the donor, except as required by law. The Red Cross maintains a confidential list of people who may be at risk for spreading transfusion-transmitted diseases. When required by law, we report donor information, including test results, to health departments, military medical commands, and regulatory agencies. Donation information may also be used confidentially for medical studies.

What happens if I donate blood and realize afterward that I shouldn’t have because I may have been exposed to HIV or another disease?

If you give blood but decide later that your blood may not be safe to transfuse, you should call the post donation call-back telephone number you were given at the time of your donation or call 1-866-236-3276. This call should be made as soon as possible.

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What does the Red Cross do with my blood?

The blood will be delivered to a Red Cross blood component laboratory where it is processed into several components (e.g., red blood cells, plasma, platelets and/or cryoprecipitate). A single blood donation may help up to three different people.

Does the Red Cross pay blood donors?

No. All Red Cross blood donors are volunteers. In fact, all blood collected for transfusion in the United States must be from volunteer donors.

Why am I charged for blood at the hospital when I have donated blood to the Red Cross previously?

Since 1960, the Red Cross has been reimbursed by hospitals for the costs associated with providing blood to hospital patients. The Red Cross does not charge for the blood itself that you have so generously donated. The Red Cross only recovers the costs associated with the recruitment and screening of potential donors, the collection of blood by trained staff, the processing and testing of each unit of blood in state-of-the-art laboratories, and the labeling, storage, and distribution of blood components. Hospitals may have their own additional charges related to the administration of blood and may pass on these costs to their patients. 

Do blood types differ between ethnic groups? 

Yes. For example, about 57 percent of the Latino population is type O, the blood type in greatest demand. That share is 51 percent for African Americans, and only about 45 percent for white Caucasians. As certain population groups continue to increase, so does the need for type O blood. It is critical that more Latino and African American donors, give blood regularly to ensure that patient needs can be met.

Can I donate blood for myself?

An autologous donation is when you donate blood for yourself before having surgery or a planned medical procedure. Autologous donations require a physician prescription. Contact your doctor first to find out if you should donate blood for yourself.

What is Chagas disease?

About 100,000 people in the United States are thought to be infected with Trypanosoma cruzi, the parasite that causes Chagas’ disease. Up to 20 million people are believed to be infected in Mexico, Central and South America. Only about one percent of those infected show immediate symptoms, which can include fever, malaise, and swelling. Most appear to recover, although a few infants and people with suppressed immune systems suffer fatal brain swelling. About 30 percent of all those infected develop a dormant form that festers in the nerve cells of the heart and intestines for 10 to 30 years before progressing to severe disease and death by heart failure or a ruptured intestine. In 2007, the American Red Cross began testing donor blood for Chagas’ disease. Not all units of blood that test positive for antibodies to the Chagas parasite will transmit the disease, but all that have a positive test result are discarded.

What is TRALI?

Transfusion-related acute lung injury (TRALI) is a serious blood transfusion complication thought to be most commonly caused by white blood cell antibodies present in the plasma component of blood products. When transfused, these antibodies sometimes activate a type of white blood cell called a granulocyte, which causes plasma to leak into the lungs, resulting in fluid accumulation a condition referred to as acute pulmonary edema.

Donors who are more likely to have these antibodies include women who have been pregnant and men or women who have previously received a transfusion or transplant. There are currently no screening tests to prevent TRALI, nor is there any single intervention that can eliminate the risk of TRALI. However, some steps to reduce the risk of TRALI are being taken for products that contain high volumes of plasma.

Are blood substitutes available?

No, there are currently no substitutes for blood. However, research is continually being done to identify new alternatives to blood transfusion. The Red Cross actively follows blood substitute research and works closely with other organizations that develop new transfusion alternatives.


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