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Donating blood is vital to replenishing our nation's blood supply and saving the lives of critically ill or injured patients in need of blood transfusions.

Overview

What Is It?

Donating blood is vital to replenishing our nation's blood supply and saving the lives of critically ill or injured patients in need of blood transfusions. Every year, nearly five million Americans need blood transfusions. An estimated 43,000 pints (or units) of donated blood are used each day in the United States, and one in seven people entering the hospital needs blood. Women are critical to the country's blood supply, since their role as caregivers sends a message that donating blood is the right thing to do. However, they are also more likely than men to be temporarily restricted from donating because of low hematocrit, or red blood cell levels if they are still menstruating.

Blood Shortages: Why Donating Blood Is Important

Unfortunately, the country's blood supply on occasion runs on perilously thin margins. Blood shortages occur periodically when supply doesn't keep up with demand. But if only one more percent of the United States population would give blood, these shortages would disappear for the foreseeable future.

Shortages occur for numerous reasons, including generational differences and behaviors associated with giving blood and an increased need for blood transfusions. Blood banks work hard to make it as easy and convenient as possible to donate blood. Still, there are numerous restrictions on who can donate blood, with an estimated 62 percent of the American population unable to donate.

How Do You Donate Blood?

Donating blood is relatively simple and entirely safe, however, taking just an hour and requiring little preparation. There is little risk of adverse reaction when donating blood, and you can donate whole blood every 56 days; blood platelets every three days, up to 24 times a year. However, a few people may feel dizzy or faint during the process. In general, this can be prevented by eating a good meal and drinking a lot of fluids (not caffeine) before the donation.

Is the Blood Supply Safe?

The blood supply today is extremely safe, with the risk of catching a blood-borne disease via a transfusion miniscule. Research is underway to make the blood supply even safer via blood sterilization. Transfusions carry other risks, including the risk of receiving the wrong blood type and of contracting a rare lung condition that can be deadly.

The Blood Transfusion Process

During a transfusion, any one of several blood components may be transfused, including blood platelets, which help blood clot; red cells, which carry oxygen; and plasma, the watery fluid that transports cells and nutrients and replaces blood volume.

What Are the Different Blood Types?

There are four types of blood--O, A, B, and AB--and each type can be positive or negative, referred to as the Rh factor. In an emergency, anyone can receive type O negative blood, regardless of his or her own blood type. Researchers have also developed medicines that may help mimic the actions of some blood parts. Throughout your life, you will undergo numerous blood tests. The most common blood test, called a complete blood count, or CBC, measures the number of white and red blood cells, your hemoglobin and hematocrit values and your platelet count. Another slew of blood tests, referred to as a comprehensive metabolic panel, provide important information about your kidneys, liver, blood sugar and blood proteins.
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Publication:Women's Health Updates
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2010
Words:544
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