Frequently asked questions about blood donation

What's the difference between whole blood donation and automated donation (apheresis)?

Blood contains several components, including red blood cells, platelets, white blood cells and plasma. During a whole blood donation, donors typically donate a pint (about a half liter) of blood. During automated donation (apheresis), your blood is collected and then separated into its components by a machine. The machine keeps the platelets or plasma and returns the rest to you. Your blood stays confined within a single-use sterile tubing kit and sterile equipment. This procedure allows you to donate more frequently because the body replaces platelets and plasma more quickly than red cells.

Why should I donate?

When you donate blood, you are giving back to your community. Donated blood benefits local patients in area hospitals. In addition, population growth, medical advances and increasing blood safety measures are causing an increase in local demand that exceeds our donation rates.

What are the benefits for me as a blood donor?

  • The campus blood drives and the blood donor locations on Mayo Clinic's campuses in Jacksonville, Florida, and Rochester, Minnesota, make it easy and convenient to donate blood.
  • You will receive a miniphysical. Your temperature, blood pressure, pulse and hemoglobin are checked to ensure it's safe for you to give blood.
  • Both whole blood donation and automated donation are available.

Who can donate?

Donors must weigh at least 110 pounds (about 50 kilograms) and be at least 17 years old (16 with written consent from a parent or guardian). During your donation appointment, you will complete a brief health questionnaire to make sure blood donation is safe for you and the recipient of your blood.

How long does donation take?

  • Whole blood donation takes about 45 to 60 minutes.
  • Donating plasma or platelets (called apheresis, or automated donation) takes about 1 1/2 to two hours.
  • Double red blood cell donation takes about 30 minutes longer than a whole blood donation.

While making a donation, you'll have access to wireless internet, a television and movies.

How often may I donate?

  • You can donate whole blood every 56 days, at minimum. Talk with donor center staff about their specific requirements.
  • Plasma donors may donate as often as every 28 days.
  • Platelet donors may donate as frequently as every eight days, and up to 24 times in a 12-month period.
  • Double red cell donors may donate as often as every 168 days.

Can I donate if I have a cold, flu or fever?

No. To donate, you must be symptom-free from cold, flu or fever on the day of donation.

Can I donate if I have traveled outside the United States in the past year?

Travel to most countries will not prevent you from donating blood. Travel to some foreign countries may make donors ineligible to donate blood for varying periods of time, depending on whether certain diseases, such as malaria, are common in the country visited. The criteria concerning foreign travel are subject to change, so please discuss your eligibility with staff.

Can I donate when I am under the care of a doctor or dentist?

You may be eligible to donate, depending on your condition. Donation is acceptable after routine teeth cleaning or dental work.

Can I donate if I am taking medication?

Most medications do not prevent you from donating blood. Common medications — such as those used to control blood pressure, birth control pills and over-the-counter medications — do not affect your eligibility. If you're taking antibiotics, you must complete the course before donating. For more information about other medications, contact the Blood Donor Program.

Can I donate if I have recently had a vaccination?

Donation is acceptable after most vaccinations as long as you are feeling well. Donors vaccinated for chickenpox, measles, mumps, rubella and smallpox or who have received the oral polio vaccine must wait two to four weeks after vaccination.

Can I donate if I recently had a tattoo or ear or body piercing?

Donors with tattoos or ear or body piercings need to speak to staff to determine eligibility.

I'm afraid I'll faint when I see the needle or blood. Is there anything that I can do to prevent that from happening?

It's common to be nervous about donating blood if you've never done it before. Be assured that fainting before, during or after blood donation is rare. Staff members are skilled at making the experience as smooth as possible. It may help to not watch the needle as it is inserted, and you don't have to see the blood. The Blood Donation Program offers a television, movies and access to wireless internet, which may help keep your mind occupied while you're donating.

What should I do before I donate?

Before donating, eat a good meal and drink plenty of fluids. This will help reduce the risk of fainting during the procedure as well.