Diabetes and Blood Donations: What You Need to Know

There is currently a huge blood shortage in America, mostly due to COVID-19, according to the American Red Cross. As of this spring, over 2,700 blood drives have been canceled across the country due to social distancing protocols set in place by governors and the CDC, and people’s fears about going out in public.

This has resulted in over 86,000 fewer blood donations, and drives are the main way the Red Cross receives blood (more than 80% of all donations come from public drives at schools, workplaces, and college campuses). This is causing a catastrophe for America: this blood shortage is impacting patients who need blood transfusions, organ transplants, victims of car accidents, people suffering from cancer, and thousands facing other life-threatening emergencies.

Gail McGovern, president and chief executive officer of the American Red Cross says, “We understand why people may be hesitant to come out for a blood drive but want to reassure the public that blood donation is a safe process and that we have put additional precautions in place at our blood drives to protect the health and safety of our donors and staff.”

So, if you’re looking to donate as a person with diabetes, what are the rules? Are you allowed to? Should you stay at home? Here’s what you should know before you go:

General Requirements for Donating Blood

To donate blood, a person will need to bring a driver’s license or two other forms of identification. Individuals who are 17 years old in most states (16 with parental consent where allowed by state law), weigh at least 110 pounds and are in generally good health are eligible to donate blood.

Most People with Diabetes Can Donate

Generally, if your HbA1c levels are in range (per your doctor’s recommendations), and you are in good health (with few or no diabetes complications), you are fine to donate blood. A caveat is anyone who injected bovine insulin after 1980 is ineligible from donating, due to a very small likelihood of having and thus spreading variant CJD, also known as mad cow disease. While no oral diabetes medications will preclude one from donating, there is a deferral list of medicines that can save one time before making the trip to donate.

Does Donating Blood Make You Go Low?

Not directly, no. While some people may feel faint or nauseous from giving blood, that’s due to losing blood (in the donation process), and not low blood sugar. Donating blood does not usually make one’s blood sugar rise or fall. That being said, before you donate make sure your blood sugar is in a healthy spot, and that you have a backup low snack in case you suddenly drop.

What Would Stop Someone from Donating Blood?

Common reasons you may be turned away from donating blood are:

  • You have a cold or flu
  • You have traveled outside of the United States recently
  • You have a low iron count
  • You do not meet the weight or height requirements
  • You take certain medications

Read more about eligibility requirements here.

Is It Dangerous to Give Blood During COVID-19?

Many people are afraid to go donate blood during the pandemic, but the Red Cross wishes to reassure people that it is extremely safe to give blood, and that donations are especially needed during this time. The Red Cross has implemented new measures to ensure blood drives and donations are even safer for donors, including:

  • Checking the temperature of staff and all donors, to screen for possible COVID-19 infection
  • Providing hand sanitizer for use before and during the donation process
  • Spacing beds to follow social distancing rules between blood donors
  • Increasing disinfection of surfaces and equipment

These enhanced protocols are in addition to the safety measures that the Red Cross already takes to ensure the health and well-being of every donor, which includes:

  • Wearing gloves and changing gloves regularly (between donors)
  • Routinely wiping down communal areas
  • Using sterile collection sets for every donation
  • Using alcohol swabs on donors to clean skin surface adequately

There is no data or evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted by blood transfusion, and there have been no reported cases of transfusion transmission for any respiratory virus including COVID-19 worldwide, so donating blood is seen as an extremely safe activity.

Safety precaution: Bring and wear a face covering when donating blood and socially distance yourself from other donors at the center. | Photo credit: Adobe Stock

Safety Precautions If You Want to Donate

If you are willing and able to donate blood, that’s great! Keep the following things in mind as you head out the door:

  • Bring and wear a face covering at all times
  • Socially distance yourself from other donors while at the center
  • Bring along hand sanitizer (for when you touch communal things, i.e. a pen to sign-in at the front desk, etc.)
  • Bring along a low snack 
  • Bring your ID
  • Thank yourself for doing this important public service!

Gail McGovern adds, “As a nation, this is a time where we must take care of one another including those most vulnerable among us in hospitals. One of the most important things people can do right now during this public health emergency is to give blood. If you are healthy and feeling well, please make an appointment to donate as soon as possible.”

Have you donated blood, in the past or recently? How was your experience? Share your experience, and any advice you have, in the comments below; we love hearing from our readers.

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