If you or a loved one need a blood transfusion, you want that blood to be as safe as possible.
That’s why blood donation and blood providers like Vitalant are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA has established blood donation requirements designed to keep the blood supply safe from bloodborne diseases, and also keep patients safe from anything else in a donor’s blood (such as a medication) that could harm them.
That’s why you could receive what is called a blood donation deferral, meaning you aren’t eligible to donate blood for a certain time period. Deferrals not only protect patients and the blood supply, they also protect donors, because you may also be deferred when your body is not quite up to snuff to safely donate.
Blood donation deferrals can be short-term, and on rare occasions they are longer term, but the good news is that most blood donation deferrals don’t mean you can NEVER donate blood.
Common short-term blood donation deferrals
Basic blood donation requirements include being 16 or older, weighing at least 110 pounds, and being in good general health. When you come to donate at a Vitalant location, we’ll perform a few simple checks to make sure you’re OK to donate. If any of the results indicate you aren’t quite up to the task, you will receive a blood donation deferral and won’t be able to donate that day:
- We check your hemoglobin level with a simple finger stick to draw a drop of blood. This test makes sure you have enough red blood cells to safely donate.
- We check your temperature because a fever can indicate you are fighting an illness even if you haven’t had symptoms.
- We check your blood pressure because if it’s too high or too low, it can affect how you feel during and after your donation, and we want your blood donation experience to be a positive one!
Most of the time, these blood donation deferrals are temporary. Blood hemoglobin levels can fluctuate and be affected by factors such as a woman’s menstrual cycle. Your blood pressure may be elevated because you’ve had a stressful day or are nervous about donating.
If you’re told you can’t donate for one of these reasons, you can come back and try again a different day (if your hemoglobin level or blood pressure is consistently off, you should consult your physician).
Reasons you may have to wait a bit longer to donate
There are reasons you might receive a blood donation deferral of a few months or more but these deferrals have exceptions, are rarely permanent, and can change over time.
Getting a tattoo, a once common donation deferral, is no longer a concern except in a small number of unregulated states and for only three months.
Conditions like heart disease, diabetes and chronic high blood pressure treated with medication don’t necessarily prevent you from donating blood. Even if you’ve battled cancer, there’s a good chance you can donate once you are cancer-free and 12 months past your last treatment date.
Taking most medications, even insulin and blood pressure medication, would not defer you from donating. However, some medications prevent you from donating because they can cause issues in a transfusion recipient, such as birth defects if the patient is pregnant. A medication deferral can last up to several years but still isn’t permanent if you eventually stop taking the medication.
You can peruse a more detailed list of how these and other factors affect your eligibility here. You can also call us at 877-258-4825, Option 1, or ask our donor care specialist at the time of your donation.
Deferral criteria can change over time
The FDA periodically reviews its guidance and previous deferrals can change based on new research and other factors. In April 2020, the FDA updated donor eligibility criteria impacting the risk for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), malaria and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, also known as mad cow disease.