January is National Blood Donor Month, a time when need runs high while donations typically run low, according to the American Red Cross.

Winter brings fewer blood donations because of busy schedules, colds, and inclement weather that keep people inside instead of visiting the nearest blood donation facility. Meanwhile, winter driving conditions frequently lead to an increase in the demand for blood, with bad accidents leading to traumatic injuries.

Save lives this January by donating blood during National Blood Donor Month. One pint of blood, the amount of the average donation, can save up to three lives, according to the Red Cross.

Who is eligible to donate blood?

Anyone at least 17 years old can donate, as long as they meet certain criteria designed to ensure a healthy supply of blood. The complete list of criteria can be found here, but generally anyone who is healthy can donate blood. Even those with ongoing health conditions such as diabetes may donate as long as the condition is controlled with appropriate medication.

If you have a cold, fever, or cough, though, wait to donate until you feel well.

Many chronic pain patients are on medication, but most prescriptions do not prevent you from donating blood. The Red Cross says:

“In almost all cases, medications will not disqualify you as a blood donor. Your eligibility will be based on the reason that the medication was prescribed. As long as the condition is under control and you are healthy, blood donation is usually permitted.”

If participating in National Blood Donor Month isn’t something you’re able to do, you might also consider making a financial contribution to the Red Cross to help the organization carry out its work.

Why donate blood?

When people arrive at the hospital from car accidents or other traumas, or go into surgery, they often need blood to help them survive. Other people have chronic health conditions, such as sickle cell disease, that require ongoing blood transfusions throughout their lives. Cancer patients may also need blood during the course of their treatment, particularly if they’re receiving chemotherapy.

A blood transfusion happens every two seconds in the U.S., according to the Red Cross, and 41,000 blood donations are needed every day to keep up with demand. Someone arriving at the hospital after a car accident may need as many as 100 pints of blood, although the average transfusion is three pints.

Type O is the type of blood most requested by hospitals, with Type O-negative able to be used for any patient. However, your donation will help save a life no matter what type it is. Fewer than 10% of eligible blood donors in the U.S. give blood.

How does blood donation work?

The first step is to find a place taking donations of blood. Visit this Red Cross website, where you can enter your zip code and find a list of the closest blood donation centers. United Blood Services also runs donation centers across the Valley and country.

Many centers are permanent, although special drives are held during National Blood Donor Month and throughout the rest of the year. For up-to-date information about collection drives, check the Red Cross Arizona Blood Services Region Twitter feed.

Before arriving, make sure to drink plenty of water because being well-hydrated makes it easier to draw blood. You’ll need to offer your arm for the blood draw, which typically takes place above the elbow, so wear a short-sleeved shirt or long shirt with sleeves that can be rolled up.

The Red Cross recommends eating iron-rich foods in the weeks leading up to your donation. Try filling your diet with foods like meat and eggs, tuna, scallops, and oysters. Some vegetables are also iron rich. They include spinach, sweet potatoes, broccoli, and kale. Beans and tofu are good sources of iron, as are strawberries, dates, figs, and prunes. Whole wheat bread, oats, and cream of wheat also offer an abundance of iron.

When you arrive at the blood donation center, it’s important to bring a list of medications you’re taking. While most medications won’t prevent you from donating blood, you’ll want to let the staff know exactly what’s in your system so they can ask any questions required and make sure the blood is safe to donate.

Plan to be at the donation center for about one hour and 15 minutes, although the actual blood draw takes around ten minutes. During your visit, you’ll also receive a mini physical with personnel checking your heart rate, temperature, and pulse to make sure you’re healthy.

After giving blood, you’ll head to a refreshments area to have a light snack and beverage to help the body replenish itself. Hang out there for ten or 15 minutes to make sure you don’t have any adverse effects, and then you’ll be on your way knowing you just helped save lives.

After leaving the facility and later through the day, Red Cross recommends drinking four, eight-ounce glasses of water or other non-alcoholic beverage to help your body replace the lost blood. You may experience dizziness or weakness, so take it easy and try to relax. If you do experience dizzy feelings, lie down with the feet elevated until you feel normal again.

What happens to donated blood?

Blood donated during National Blood Donor Month and during other times of the year is then sent to a special laboratory where technicians separate it into parts including red blood cells, platelets, and plasma. The different components may be used to help different people, making your blood donation mean that much more.

About the Red Cross blood services

The Red Cross’ blood program began in 1940, and today supplies nearly half (40%) of the nation’s blood supply. Blood donations are on a volunteer basis, and the Red Cross supplies the blood for free, charging only enough to run its extensive blood-gathering operations.

Most of the Red Cross’ donations during National Blood Donor Month and throughout the year happen at mobile donation centers situated at churches and other places of worship, community centers, and schools, while about 20% of blood is taken in at permanent Red Cross donation centers.

Have you ever donated blood?

Image by makelessnoise via Flickr

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