Giving Blood: Restrictions, Rules, and Eligibility

Giving Blood - Restrictions & Rules to Know

Donating blood is an exceptional way to give back to your community, which is why it’s important to know about basic giving blood restrictions. The list of eligibility restrictions and rules for donating blood is extensive, and rightfully so; it’s important to keep those who receive donated blood safe. However, many of these requirements are very specific and are only applicable to individuals who likely know to check on their eligibility. 

In the interest of making donating blood easier for the average person, Complete Care has pared down the list of giving blood restrictions provided by the American Red Cross to those issues that come up the most frequently. 

Blood donation eligibility – basic requirements 

Before we get too deep into giving blood restrictions, let’s cover a few requirements that don’t have anything to do with your health. In order to donate blood, you must:

  • Be at least 17 years old. In some states, you can give blood at 16 years-of-age with parental consent. 
  • Weight at least 110 lbs. The weight limit is enforced because the amount of blood in your body is roughly proportional to your weight; the bodies of individuals who weigh less than 110 lbs. may not respond well to the standard amount of blood drawn during donations. 

A quick note on the different types of blood donation 

Today, there are several different types of blood donation. For example, The American Red Cross (ARC) has four different donation categories that are split up depending on the blood components taken:

  • Whole Blood: White blood cells, red blood cells, platelets, and plasma all donated
  • Power Red: 2 units of red blood cells donated; platelets and plasma returned to your bloodstream 
  • Platelet donation: Only platelets extracted donated; other blood components are returned to bloodstream
  • Plasma donation: Only plasma extracted and donated; other blood components are returned to bloodstream

If you intend to take advantage of a blood donation type other than whole blood donation, keep in mind that these donations may be subject to additional restrictions and rules.  

What excludes you from donating blood? Top restrictions for giving blood.

As we mentioned previously, there are quite a few blood donation disqualifications. The following are just the most common restrictions for giving blood that need to be enacted. 

1. You have the cold, flu, or other acute illnesses that cause fever

If you have the cold or flu at the time you wish to donate, you will want to reschedule your appointment for a full 7 days after your symptoms have disappeared. Having a cold or the flu doesn’t affect the blood you’re donating, but blood donation centers turn away sick individuals from donating in an effort to reduce the spread of the flu. If you are running a fever, you will not be permitted to donate blood. 

Blood donation rates often go down during the flu season. If you want to help combat this issue, take a moment to read our article on Staying Healthy During the Flu Season

2. Your iron (hemoglobin) levels are too low 

Hemoglobin, a protein found in your red blood cells plays an essential role in transporting oxygen to your body’s organs and tissues and back to your lungs. Hemoglobin also contains much of your body’s iron. So when someone says that your iron levels are too low, that is actually a misleading way of stating that your hemoglobin levels are too low for you to safely donate blood.  

Hemoglobin levels are measured in grams per deciliter. In their eligibility requirements list (linked above) The American Red Cross states that:

“In order to donate blood, a woman must have a hemoglobin level of at least 12.5 g/dL, and a man must have a hemoglobin level of at least 13.0 g/dL. For all donors, the hemoglobin level can be no greater than 20 g/dL.” 

If you’ve had trouble giving blood in the past due to low iron/hemoglobin levels, you can combat these deficiencies by eating iron-rich foods, especially meat and animal products (beef, turkey, chicken, etc.). If you are vegetarian, breads and pastas, beans, peanuts, lentils, tofu, and eggs are also good sources of iron, although your body cannot absorb the iron they contain as easily. 

3. You are taking certain medications or antibiotics 

What medications disqualify you from donating blood? Frankly, because there are so many medications this question is one of the more complex ones to answer regarding giving blood restrictions and rules. As a general rule, most OTC medications will not disqualify you from giving blood. If you take prescription medications, look at the ARC’s list of medications to see if your medication may defer your donation. 

The following are the most frequently discussed medications when it come to giving blood restriction: 

  • Aspirin: If you take Aspirin or medications containing Aspirin, you will likely be allowed to donate whole blood. If you wish to donate only platelets, you will need to wait the space of two full days between the last time you took a pill and the day you donate blood. 
  • Blood thinners: Since blood thinners affect the ability of your blood to clot, individuals taking certain types of blood thinners will not be allowed to donate. 
  • Birth control pills: Women taken birth control are eligible to donate blood. 
  • Insulin: Diabetics using insulin are eligible to donate blood so long as their diabetes is well under control.

For most antibiotics, wait until you have completed the full course of antibiotics if you are taking oral medication, and wait until 10 days after the last injection if you’re receiving antibiotics by injection.

4. You traveled to the wrong place at the wrong time 

Travel exposes us to different cultures, customs, and… diseases. Unfortunately, some of these diseases can affect your ability to donate blood. 

Mad Cow Disease / Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD) 

Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) is an infectious brain disease that occurs in humans and can be passed on via blood transfusion. Individuals with CJD are not allowed to donate blood. Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, more commonly known as Mad Cow Disease, is a variant of CJD that can be passed on to humans when they eat food products from cows sick with Bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Once infected, humans can then pass vCJD on to other humans via blood transfusions. 

In the 80s and 90s, the UK saw a widespread outbreak of Bovine spongiform encephalopathy in cows. Symptoms from vCJD can take years (sometimes as many as 50) to show. Currently, there is no sufficient test that can be used to screen all blood donors for vCJD before donation, which is why certain restrictions are placed on potential donors who traveled to, lived in, received blood transfusions in and around the UK during those times. 

In particular, you will not be allowed to donate blood due concerns over vCJD if you:

  • Traveled/lived 3 months or more in the UK from Jan. 1st, 1980 – Dec. 31st, 1996 
  • Traveled/lived 5 years or more in France or Ireland from Jan. 1st 1990 – Dec. 31st,1996 
  • Received a blood transfusion in France, Ireland, or the UK from Jan. 1st, 1980 – present 

Malaria 

Malaria is a blood infection that can be passed on during blood transfusion. Currently, donation centers do not test for malaria. So while traveling to, living in, or contracting malaria will not permanently disqualify you from donating blood, there are some important wait times/malaria-related giving blood restrictions you need to follow if you have been exposed to malaria. 

Appropriate wait times for blood donation if exposed to malaria: 

  • If you contracted malaria, wait 3 years after completing treatment before donating blood
  • If you traveled in a country where malaria is found, wait 3 months before donating blood
  • If you lived in a country where malaria is found for 5+ years, wait 3 years before donating blood 

Zika and Ebola 

Individuals who contracted Ebola are not eligible to donate blood. If you have contracted the Zika virus either in the United States or during travel, you can still donate, but you must wait 120 days after your symptoms resolve.

5. You were recently vaccinated

If you have recently received a vaccination or immunization, you may be required to wait for a period of time (typically a few weeks) before being eligible to donate blood. The major exceptions are the Smallpox vaccination and living in close proximity of someone who receives the Smallpox vaccination. It is requested that you wait 8 weeks after receiving a Smallpox vaccine or after living in close proximity to someone who received the Smallpox vaccine before donating blood. This waiting period should be extended if you experience complications.

COVID-19 vaccination restrictions are, at the time of writing, still subject to change. However, at the present moment, the ACR states that blood donations are “Acceptable if you were vaccinated with an Inactivated or RNA based COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by Moderna or Pfizer providing you are symptom-free and fever-free.” If you received a different type of COVID-19  vaccine or are unsure what type of vaccine you received, you may be subject to a waiting period before you are eligible to donate blood. 

6. You have blood-related health issues

Blood and bleeding diseases or issues will often disqualify you from donating blood. If you suffer from hemophilia, Von Willebrand disease, hereditary hemochromatosis, or sickle cell disease, you are not eligible to donate blood. If you have sickle cell trait, it is still acceptable for you to donate blood. 

Note that having high or low blood pressure does not typically break giving blood restrictions, but you will need to meet certain criteria: below 180/100 and above 90/50 (systolic/diastolic). 

7. You have Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, HIV/AIDS, or may have been exposed to these diseases via sexual contact 

Hepatitis B and C and HIV/AIDs are diseases that can be passed on via blood transfusion, and therefore individuals who suffer from these diseases are ineligible to donate blood. Unfortunately, these aforementioned diseases can be transmitted through sexual contact, so if you are not certain whether or not you may have contracted these diseases from previous sexual partners, consider deferring your donation until you are sure. All donated blood is screened for hepatitis B and C and HIV.  

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and blood donation: 

When it comes to blood donation, other STDs are often wrongly lumped into the same category as hepatitis B and C and HIV. In reality, the ARC has separate recommendations for STDs and venereal diseases. 

  • Gonorrhea and syphilis: You should still defer blood donation if you are not certain whether or not you may have contracted gonorrhea and syphilis. However, if you have contracted gonorrhea or syphilis, you will still donate blood so long as you complete your treatment of the disease and wait 3 full months after the treatment is completed.
  • Chlamydia, HPV, and genital herpes: Individuals who suffer from chlamydia, HPV, or genital herpes are eligible to donate blood. 

8. You got a tattoo or piercing

These giving blood restrictions pop up on a lot of lists as being some of the more surprising reasons you might not be able to give blood. The concern behind tattoos, piercings, and even intravenous drug use, is that the instruments and needles used in these practices may spread hepatitis.  

For tattoos, you won’t be asked to defer your blood donation so long as you live in a state that regulates its tattoo facilities. If you don’t live in a state that regulates these facilities (District of Columbia, Georgia, Idaho, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah and Wyoming) then you should wait 3 months before donating blood. 

For piercings, you won’t be asked to defer your blood donation so long as the piercing was conducted using single-use equipment. If the piercing was made using reusable equipment (or if there’s any question whether or not it was) then you will be asked to wait 3 months before donating. 

9. You’re pregnant 

Pregnant women are requested to wait until 6 weeks after giving birth to donate blood. As mentioned in the section on iron and hemoglobin, your blood plays a critical role in providing oxygen to your tissues and muscles — and to a fetus, if you’re pregnant. For that reason, donating blood during pregnancy has the potential to create unnecessary complications related to low hemoglobin levels (anemia) that may affect foetal development. 

10. You donated blood too recently 

If you have given blood recently, wait at least 8 weeks before signing up again to donate. You have just donated about 8% of your blood! The wait time between donations allows your body to replenish all of the components of the blood that you donated.

What are the do’s and don’ts before donating blood

Have you explored the ins and out of giving blood restrictions, know you’re eligible to donate, but not sure how to proceed with preparing to donate? There are several steps you can take (and several you shouldn’t) to ensure that your donation goes smoothly. The American Red Cross provides a guide for first-time donors and a FAQ list. Complete Care has also created a handy guide for what to do before giving blood

Complete Care and our patients thank you for donating blood!  

Complete Care and our patients thank you for donating blood! Like all emergency rooms, Complete Care relies on donated blood to help save the lives of our patients. Just one donation can help save up to three lives! Blood cells, platelets, plasma — it’s all useful and potentially life-saving. Find a local blood drive near you and schedule a date to donate today. And thank you, from the bottom of our hearts! 

If you find yourself feeling especially ill after a blood donation, Complete Care is here to help. We are open 24/7 and welcome walk-ins. We are here for any of your health concerns. Visit your nearest Complete Care location today for quick, efficient, patient-centered care today.

More Helpful Articles by Complete Care: