Although donating blood is a great contribution, it is important to allow your body time to make new blood cells before donating again. 

Different Guidelines for Different Types of Donations

The American Red Cross has specific guidelines for how often people may donate, based on research and average times to replenish the body’s blood supply. There are four basic types of donation, with various waiting period requirements for each. 

  1. Whole blood donations are the most common. Whole blood contains red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelet cells that are suspended in the base liquid, which is called plasma. When you donate whole blood, the unit can be used as whole blood or even separated into separate types of donations, depending on the need, making it very versatile. 

Most people can donate whole blood every 56 days. 

  1. Red blood cell donations are more concentrated, removing approximately twice the number of red blood cells from the body as a whole blood donation. For this reason, this type of blood donation can only be done every 112 days – not more than three times per year. Male donors under age 18 can only donate red blood cells twice per year, as their body has a high metabolic demand during this time of their life. 
  1. Platelets are cells that help with blood clotting, a very important donation for people with hemophilia or other clotting disorders. Without platelet donations, these patients can literally die from blood loss. Platelets regenerate fairly quickly (faster than red blood cells) and can be donated every 7 days, up to 24 times per year!
  1. Plasma donations separate the blood component cells from the plasma and put the cells back into the body – removing only the plasma fluid. Since plasma components are easier for the body to replace, these types of donations can be done every 28 days, up to 13 times per year. 

Other Factors that Affect the Donation Waiting Period

  1. Medications. People who are on certain medications, such as a course of antibiotics, must wait until the drug 8is out of their system to donate. This may require postponing a scheduled donation. 

Other categories of medications that impact blood donations are:

  • Blood thinners
  • Acne treatments
  • Hair loss and prostate medications
  • Skin cancer medications
  • Oral psoriasis medication
  • Rheumatoid arthritis medication 
  1. Physical requirements. 

Age. In most states, 16-year olds can donate whole blood, and 17-year olds can donate plasma or platelets. There is no upper age limit. 

Weight. Donors should weigh a minimum of 110 lbs. 

General health. Donors should be free of illness like colds and flu symptoms, and should not have cuts or open wounds. 

Pregnancy. You must wait until 6 weeks after giving birth to donate. 

Body art. If you have new tattoos or piercings, you must wait one year to donate. Those with older body art can still donate freely.

  1. Travel. If you have recently been to a country with a high malaria risk, there may be a waiting period or certain restrictions. 

Blood donors are asked a series of screening questions prior to donation that can seem very personal. These questions are about making sure that the donor is in good health and that the blood supply remains as safe as possible for recipients. 

Karen Stockdale, RN, has more than 20 years experience in healthcare. She is also a medical and technical writer and editor.