The most important questions and answers about donating blood

The most important questions and answers about donating blood
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Why it matters whether you donate blood or not

The need is great: hospitals are currently only getting around half of the blood they need because there are no blood donors. They appeal to urgently donate blood. But who can donate and who can’t? And which blood groups are particularly scarce? The most important questions and answers.

Every day, 15,000 blood donations are needed in Germany in order to be able to carry out vital operations or to treat people after accidents. But at the moment there is an unprecedented shortage of blood. The West blood donation service from the German Red Cross describes the situation as critical. If the situation persists, countless hospitals fear having to cancel operations that can be planned in order to be able to ensure emergency care. They are therefore urgently appealing for blood donations.

There is a high probability that one day you will need a blood unit yourself: “Statistically speaking, one in three Germans will need a blood product at least once in their life. Especially in an emergency, each of us would like to have a suitable blood supply available at all times,” says Michael Hoor, medical director and chief physician for anesthesia and intensive care at the St. Martinus Hospital in Düsseldorf. However, this is only possible if many are willing to donate themselves. What you should know about the topic:

Who does my blood donation help?

sick and seriously injured people. Because without blood supplies, emergency care after accidents is just as impossible as vital operations that require blood reserves to carry out. But the treatment of cancer patients is also not possible without blood supplies, since these patients’ own blood-forming system is severely weakened during chemotherapy. “These patients therefore need blood components such as platelets – i.e. thrombocytes – on a very regular basis,” says Daniel Beiser from the DRK blood donation service.

Who can donate blood and who cannot?

Anyone over the age of 18 who weighs at least 50 kilograms can donate blood. According to information from the DRK blood donation service, anyone who donates blood for the first time must not be older than 68 years. Anyone who has already donated several times can continue to do so until they are 75. “People with cancer, infectious diseases (such as malaria, HIV or hepatitis C) and high-risk sexual behavior are excluded from donating blood,” says Christian Temme, transfusion medicine specialist at Essen University Medicine.

Donations may not be made during pregnancy and up to six months after childbirth, temporarily for some vaccinations, before and after operations or after trips abroad to certain regions – sometimes also to other European countries. Donating can also be difficult if you have certain pre-existing conditions or are taking medication. Questions about blood donation can be clarified on the free blood donation hotline: 0800 11 949 11.

Which blood groups are particularly in demand?

All blood types are required. However, blood group 0 – especially with a negative Rhesus factor – plays a special role, because it can be transferred to any other person in an emergency. Blood group 0 is the most common blood group in this country alongside AB. However, only six percent of the people living in Germany carry the optimal combination with Rhesus factor negative. However, other blood group characteristics may also be particularly in demand regionally.

How many times a year can you donate blood?

Men are allowed to donate blood six times a year, women only four times. The reason: by donating blood, the body loses iron. The body needs about two months to compensate for this. Since women have a higher risk of iron deficiency due to their menstrual period and also have a lower blood volume, they are not allowed to donate blood as often.

What are the advantages of donating for me?

Before donating blood, there is a health check with blood pressure and fever measurement and determination of the hemoglobin level in the blood. The blood is then also tested for certain infectious diseases and your own blood group is determined. According to a study by the Berlin Charité, regular blood donation can have a positive effect on blood pressure. On average, it falls by 16 mmHg – this unit of measurement indicates the pressure of body fluids. This effect lasted up to six weeks. According to the professional association of German internists, a reduction in blood pressure of 10 mmHg reduces the risk of stroke and ischemic heart disease by up to 40 percent. In a survey, the study participants also stated that they felt more productive and vital after the donation. The Berlin researchers also suspect that regular blood donors have a better immune system.

What types of blood donation are there?

  • The most common form is the so-called whole blood donation. Half a liter of blood is taken from this. The donation is then broken down into the individual blood components – i.e. erythrocytes, thrombocytes and blood plasma. They are used to create various blood products that can be used by several people and for different purposes, explains the DRK. “In this way, up to three lives can be saved with a single donation,” says Temme.
  • There is also the so-called blood plasma donation, in which only the liquid part of the blood – the blood plasma – is removed. All other components of the blood are returned directly to the body and are not lost. Plasma donations can therefore be made up to 60 times a year.
  • When donating thrombocytes, just like when donating plasma, only a certain part of the blood is filtered out – in this case the thrombocytes, which are responsible for blood clotting. Since these only have a shelf life of four days, interested donors usually register in a donor pool and are called flexibly when their donation is required. Platelet donations are particularly needed for major bleeding after surgery, for organ transplants and for the treatment of cancers such as leukaemia.
  • You can also donate blood for yourself in the case of planned surgeries that are expected to require blood supplies. One then speaks of an autologous blood donation. The patient can set up their own blood bank by donating up to four times.

Why is there no alternative to blood?

Despite decades of research, no artificial substitute for blood has yet been found. The scientists are faced with various unsolvable problems when producing artificial blood: The artificial blood would have to take over the transport of oxygen from the lungs to the tissue. This role is played by the so-called hemoglobin in human blood. It ensures that the oxygen absorbed by the lungs as gas is bound on the one hand, but on the other hand that this binding is not so strong that the oxygen is not released back into the tissue. Other requirements are also currently unresolved. Artificial blood should not affect the organism in any way and should slowly disappear from the blood after administration. Although there are, for example, synthetic blood substitutes in which hydrocarbon compounds – so-called perfluorocarbons – are used instead of hemoglobin, these often trigger immune reactions. A corresponding preparation, which was used in the USA and a few other countries, was withdrawn from the market in 1994.

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