Busting myths about blood donation

World Blood Donor Day is on June 14 - don't let misconceptions keep you from giving blood and saving lives.

13 June 2019
By Glynis Horning

Blood donations save thousands of lives a year. Every unit you give can help at least three people, because blood is separated into red blood cells, plasma and platelets. A unit lasts only 42 days, so it’s vital to donate regularly – the South African National Blood Service (SANBS) needs to collect 3 000 units of blood every day to ensure a safe supply. Don’t let these common myths keep you from giving:

Myth 1. It’s painful.

It’s really not! When you donate you feel nothing more than a prick when the fine needle first enters the skin on your forearm.

Myth 2. It’s time-consuming.

It takes no longer 30 minutes, including the initial screening and mini-physical, and a snack afterwards. The actual blood taking lasts only 10-15 minutes.

Myth 3. It’s dangerous.

It’s entirely safe – new, sterile needles and equipment are used for each donor. In fact, donating blood has benefits for your overall health, see why donating blood is good for you. The average adult has about 4.4 to 5.5 litres of blood circulating inside their body; when you donate, only 350-450ml are taken, and your body rapidly produces new cells. "All your red blood cells are replaced within three or four days, and white blood cells within three weeks", says Sifiso Khoza, regional marketing manager for the SANBS.

Myth 4. It’s unnecessary to donate because others give and today there are blood substitutes.

It’s extremely necessary, because only about 1% of South Africans give; and while scientists are working on developing substitutes, as yet there is nothing able to replace oxygen-carrying human blood. 

Myth 5. You can’t donate if you’re a vegetarian or vegan.

Provided you eat an iron-rich diet with vitamin C to aid absorption (think lentils and leafy greens), you will pass the iron-test required before donation. Because vegetable iron is not as well absorbed by the blood as iron from animal protein, you will take a bit longer to replace the iron you lose. 

Myth 6. You can’t donate if you’re a pensioner.

You can now donate up to age 75, as long as you are healthy and pass the screening.

Myth 7. You can’t be physically active after donating blood.

You can be reasonably active; it’s just not advisable to do heavy lifting or vigorous workouts for the rest of the day when you’ve donated, says Khoza. You can resume them the next day.

Myth 8. You can’t donate if you have a chronic disease or condition.

It depends on the disease or condition – check with the SANBS (call 0800 119 031 or visit https://sanbs.org.za) You can still donate if you have diabetes, providing you are controlling it, it’s stable, and the insulin you use is not made from bovine secretion. You can also donate if you have high cholesterol; if you have a heart condition, provided you’re not on heart medication other than aspirin and there’s no underlying damage; and if you had a stroke, as long as it was a year ago and you’re not on medication for it and have no activity restrictions.

You can even donate if you’ve had cancer, as long as it wasn’t a cancer of the blood, and you completed treatment a year ago and are in remission. You can never donate if you’ve tested positive for HIV or hepatitis B or C.

Myth 9. You can’t donate if you’re on medication.

This depends on the type of medication and the condition you are taking it for – SANBS staff can advise you. "Some medications, such as certain blood thinners, require a waiting period", says Khoza. 

Myth 10. You can’t donate if you’ve had a tattoo or piercing.

Provided your piercing, tattoo or permanent make-up was done with a sterile single-use kit, you can donate after three months.

IMAGE CREDIT: 123rf.com