Every day, more than 38,000 units of blood are used to give transfusions throughout the United States. These blood transfusions can be for red blood cells, platelets, or even whole blood, and tragic events such as disease, accidents, disaster, and violence increase the need for blood even more.
Because there is such a high blood demand, it’s important for people to donate regularly – especially if they have O-negative (universal donor) or another rare blood type that is less likely to be available in an emergency. But one of the things that holds a lot of people back is knowing whether or not certain medical conditions, hobbies, or other activities could prevent them from being good blood donors.
With that in mind, here are some of the most common questions people ask about whether or not they can donate blood.
Can You Donate Blood If You Have a Tattoo
Yes – but only if you went to a state-regulated tattoo shop that uses sterile needles and ink that has not been reused. If you got your tattoo in an unregulated facility, you will need to wait a full year before giving blood.
The biggest concern is the possibility of dirty needles and reused ink containing the Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C viruses, both of which are highly contagious and can cause severe liver damage. While every blood donation is tested for these viruses, no test is completely accurate, and a year-long waiting period allows time to ensure no symptoms develop.
States That Do Not Regulate Tattoo Facilities
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New York
Finally, it should go without saying – but we’ll say it anyway – that you should wait at least a year if you’ve received (or given yourself) any DIY tattoos.
Oh, and all of this is true for body piercings, as well, especially any made with reusable piercing guns and other instruments.
Can You Donate Blood If You Take Blood Thinners
No! Because blood thinners like Pradaxa and Xarelto prevent your blood from clotting, donating blood can actually be very dangerous for you. Even a small puncture like the one required to insert the needle can lead to severe bleeding injuries.
If you have recently stopped taking blood thinners/anticoagulants on the advice of your doctor, then you may be able to give blood. However, you should wait at least two full days before returning to the blood bank to donate.
Can You Donate Blood If You Smoke Weed
In fact, in 2014 the American Red Cross told High Times – the popular advocacy publication read by cannabis users – that there are no restrictions on donating blood for people who partake in a little herb from time to time.
Given that more and more states are legalizing marijuana use, both medicinally and recreationally, it is important to let people know that smoking weed (or otherwise ingesting marijuana) marijuana is not a good reason to avoid or delay giving blood.
However, if you do smoke a joint or two, please wait a little while before heading off to the American Red Cross (ARC). Blood donation organizations are likely to turn down donors who appear to be visibly high.
…or If You Smoke Cigarettes?
Yes – you can donate blood if you smoke cigarettes, but you should avoid smoking on the day you donate, before and up to three hours after. Smoking after you donate blood can lead to dizziness and cause you to collapse.
One instance where smoking a cigarette before donating blood could cause an issue is if it raises your blood pressure. This is a common side effect of smoking, and it could cause blood bank staff and volunteers to disqualify you from giving blood.
Of course, smoking can lead to a lot of health problems (lung cancer, high blood pressure, etc.), so it’s a good idea to quit smoking regardless of whether you are allowed to give blood or not.
Can You Donate Blood If You Have Herpes (or Another STD)
In most cases, having herpes will not prevent you from donating blood, unlike some other viral STDs like Hepatitis B or C (as noted above) or HIV. That’s because the herpes virus is primarily local, rather than systemic, and is unlikely to be in the blood stream.
The one exception to this rule is during a primary outbreak. When the disease first manifests with its itchy, irritating blisters, a small amount of the virus can enter the bloodstream. If you have not had a herpes outbreak before, you should avoid giving blood until the virus returns to its asymptomatic phase. However, it is safe to donate blood during a recurrent outbreak, so long as you are otherwise feeling well.
As for other STDs:
- People with Hepatitis or HIV/AIDS, or who may have been exposed to those viruses within the past year, cannot donate blood.
- People with chlamydia, HPV (human papilloma virus), genital herpes, or oral herpes can donate blood if they are otherwise feeling well.
- People with syphilis or gonorrhea must wait for 12 months after treatment before they can donate blood.
Can Diabetics Donate Blood?
Yes – so long as your blood sugar is within the target range, and your A1C is less than 7%. If you have low blood sugar or your A1C is too high, then donating blood can be dangerous for diabetics, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA).
Note that other complications and side effects of diabetes can cause you to be considered ineligible for blood donation. This includes heart disease, chest pain, shortness of breath, and other cardiovascular symptoms related to diabetes.
Taking insulin or oral drugs (such as Invokana) to treat diabetes will not generally prevent you from donating blood. However, if your insulin is made from bovine insulin that originated in the United Kingdom, then you are not eligible to donate blood, due to concerns related to mad cow disease.
Donate If You Can, When You Can
The good news is that before donating blood, volunteers or staff at the blood bank will go over your medical history and ask you many different questions to ensure that you can safely donate. In addition to the above, they may ask about whether you have a history of or been exposed to:
- Flu (influenza)
- Low iron levels
- Intravenous drugs (or other illegal drugs)
- Psychoactive chemicals
- Blood-borne pathogens
If you have any concerns, you should ask the blood drive volunteer or talk to your doctor before donating blood, rather than assuming that you can’t donate at all. You can also check out the ARC’s official eligibility requirements.
More than 25% of community blood centers across the U.S. have less than a 3-day blood supply on hand – which is not enough to meet normal operating demands. A single disaster, accident, or attack could strain those resources even further.
If you have never given blood – orif it’s been awhile – consider donating today!