Amanda Fouch has been donating blood since she was a teenager. “There was a blood drive at my high school, and I felt so excited about being able to give something to someone that could save their life, with the added benefit that all it cost me was a little bit of time,” she tells Yahoo Life.
The 42-year-old has continued to donate blood at least twice a year since then. “I am O negative, which means I’m a universal donor. I feel compelled to give something that is so needed and can be used for so many, and I’m lucky enough to have it,” says Fouch.
Donating blood makes many medical treatments and procedures possible and helps save thousands of lives each year, according to the American Red Cross. “By giving blood, you could help accident victims, new mothers who hemorrhage in childbirth, cancer patients, those in need of surgeries and transplants and those being treated for chronic diseases like sickle cell disease,” a Red Cross spokesperson tells Yahoo Life.
Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood. Adding to the urgency is the fact that the U.S. is currently facing a blood shortage emergency, with the lowest number of people giving blood in the last 20 years.
“Most of us know someone who has received a blood transfusion, so the need for blood touches nearly all of us whether we realize it or not,” says the Red Cross spokesperson. “Blood can’t be manufactured; it can only come from generous volunteers willing to roll up a sleeve and give about an hour of time.”
What some people may not realize is that donating blood doesn’t help just the recipients. “Donating blood helps save the lives of patients in need of medical care, but there are also benefits to the donor,” the Red Cross says. Here are some surprising ways that donating blood can help your health.
Donating blood provides a screening of your vital signs
When you check into a blood donation center, the first thing the staff does is look at your vital signs, blood pressure and heart rate to see if you qualify to donate, Dr. Anjali Bharati, emergency medicine physician at Lenox Health Greenwich Village, tells Yahoo Life. They also test your blood to check for anemia and iron deficiency, as well as infectious diseases, such as hepatitis and HIV.
“These screening tests can reveal a medical condition such as elevated blood pressure, an irregular heartbeat or anemia,” Bharati says. “This doesn’t replace a trip to the doctor but is an important evaluation.”
Vitals from each donation are recorded in each donor’s secure online record, helping them to easily track their health stats, according to the Red Cross. “This can help you monitor for health conditions such as high blood pressure, allowing you to view your vital statistical trends over time and share this information with your health care provider,” says the Red Cross spokesperson.
It can lower blood pressure and improve heart attack risk
Hemoglobin is a protein that is created by bone marrow. Kept in red blood cells, hemoglobin aids these cells in moving oxygen from the lungs to the body through your arteries. Symptoms of high or low hemoglobin include tiredness, dizziness or shortness of breath.
For people with high hemoglobin, donating blood reduces the viscosity of the blood — that’s a measurement of the thickness and stickiness of blood. Viscosity of the blood may contribute to blood clots, strokes and heart attacks.
“People with a high hemoglobin can benefit from donating blood. Reducing the hemoglobin can improve your risk for a heart attack and strokes. It can also lower your blood pressure,” says Bharati.
Donating blood can help some hereditary conditions
Hereditary hemochromatosis is a disorder that causes excess iron to build up in the blood. For this condition, donating blood is a benefit. “Regular blood donation can remove these irons, which can improve someone’s health,” says Bharati.
It boosts mental health
Research shows that helping others, which includes donating blood, can have a positive impact on mental health and well-being, including helping to reduce stress and improve mood and self-esteem.
“The greatest benefit to the donor is the good feeling of knowing you are helping to save the life of someone in need, which no doubt touches countless other lives as well,” says the Red Cross spokesperson.
Giving to your community in general inevitably lifts you up, notes Bharati. “It is a generous act of kindness — you can save up to three lives by donating one pint of blood. Knowing you are doing something so important is a huge benefit to your mental health,” she says.
Tips to consider before donating blood
You can donate blood every eight weeks if you are giving whole blood (about a pint) and every 16 weeks if you are giving a Power Red donation (about two pints). The entire donation process takes about an hour with the actual blood draw lasting eight to 10 minutes on average.
Before giving blood, follow these tips to help ensure that the process goes well:
If you tend to have low iron, avoid caffeine and eat iron-rich foods in the weeks leading up to your donation to get an extra boost of iron.
Drink lots of water starting the day before.
Get a good night’s sleep the night before.
Eat a meal before you go to the blood drive.
Avoid alcohol and caffeine before and after donating blood.
If you plan to work out, exercise before the appointment — not after — since it’s common to feel dizzy and weak after donating blood.
Bring a friend to your appointment and encourage them to donate too while you give each other support.
Want to donate blood but not sure where to go? You can visit the Red Cross website to find a location and schedule an appointment near you.