Donating blood is an important and meaningful way to help those in need! When you help others, you also receive the added benefit of a free health screening at your donation appointment. Before each appointment, a trained American Red Cross staff member will check your blood pressure, hemoglobin and pulse. This information is safely recorded in your online donor profile, which you can access at any time. For more information and tips on becoming a healthy donor, sign up for our newsletter here.
The Red Cross requires someone presenting to donate to have a blood pressure measurement below 180 systolic (top number) and below 100 diastolic (bottom number) at the time of donation. Numbers greater than the ideal range indicate that your heart is working too hard to pump blood to the rest of your body. If you take blood pressure medication, that doesn’t mean you are ineligible to donate blood. Take a look at this article on hypertension for more information on high blood pressure.
You may be saying to yourself that you’ve had your pulse rate and blood pressure checked before, but you may not be so sure about hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body. It is tested by measuring the amount of hemoglobin in a single drop of blood obtained from a finger prick. If your hemoglobin is too low, we will ask that you wait to donate until your levels have returned to normal.
Hemoglobin, or Hb, is commonly expressed in grams per deciliter (g/dL) of blood. The range for men is 13.5 to 17.5g/dL; for women it is 12.0 to 15.5g/dL. African American men and women may have a normal range that varies by 0.7g/dL at the low end of the range. Low levels of iron in the body can contribute to low hemoglobin levels. Iron is an essential component of hemoglobin, which helps maintain your strength and energy. Your body needs iron to make new blood cells, replacing the ones lost through blood donations.
To maintain healthy iron levels, the Red Cross recommends that all donors eat a well-balanced diet with foods rich in iron and vitamin C. There are two types of iron in foods: heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron is found in red meat, poultry and pork and is most easily absorbed by your body. Non-heme iron is not as easily absorbed by your body but is still a good source of iron and essential if you don’t eat meat.
Foods that are high in this type of iron include red meat, eggs, beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, breakfast cereals fortified by iron, breads and pasta, dried fruits and greens.
When you combine foods that contain each type of iron, the iron will be more completely absorbed by your body. Foods high in vitamin C can also help with the absorption of non-heme iron. To see a full list of iron-rich foods, download the iron rich food guide which includes a handy food pyramid graphic showing foods from the highest to lowest.
Before coming in to donate, eat a small meal and make sure you’re well hydrated. Get a good night’s sleep the night before.
After donating, relax in the Red Cross refreshment and recovery area for a 10-15 minutes before leaving. Enjoy a snack or finish a book; rest until you feel ready to head out. Stay hydrated by drinking extra liquids – try to drink an additional four cups – and avoid alcohol for the next 24 hours. Keep eating iron-rich foods. Don’t do any strenuous exercise or heavy lifting for the rest of the day.
Finally, pat yourself on the back for being a healthy donor and for donating; you deserve it!