How to give blood successfully
March 15, 2020 5:24 PM   Subscribe

I would like to donate blood because I know demand is high right now. However, the first and only time I tried, I apparently turned white and felt faint after a few minutes and the donation center worker stopped the process and told me I probably shouldn’t donate blood again. Is there hope for me?

I used to have a very difficult time during blood draws because I got faint especially when they struggled to find a vein, but over the past five years I tolerate them very well if I have a halfway decent phlebotomist, which is why I started wondering if I could try donating blood. The last thing I want to do is fail again and waste the time of already overworked people, so I won’t try again if it sounds once a possible-fainter, always a possible-fainter.

Has anyone successfully given blood as a person who gets light-headed around stuff like this? The sight of blood doesn’t bother me. The thought of the blood in my veins or going into the bag does, and so does watching the needle go in because I get lightheaded thinking about them rooting around. So I just don’t look when I get a blood draw and stay distracted.

I have never actually fainted, these days I don’t even feel lightheaded after a blood draw, and I’ve had plenty because for awhile I needed them monthly to adjust thyroid meds and now get them every 3–6 months.

During my previous attempt (ten years ago) I didn’t do anything specific to prepare. I didn’t know I would have a problem with it — at that time I don’t think I’d ever even had a blood draw. I was also vegetarian and struggling with disordered eating patterns. This time I would make sure to be hydrated, assume it would help to eat something light beforehand, like a banana and some peanut butter, and to go with my partner who is a total pro at this stuff.

Any advice welcome, even if it’s to tell me not to try. If not, I will continue to do other works to help my community through this crisis!
posted by the thorn bushes have roses to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
My husband is often prone to fainting during medical procedures and even discussion/depiction of same - it's totally vasovagal response from clenching his entire body - but giving blood is one of the things he can entirely stop himself from the clench reaction, mostly because he knows to be mindful he doesn't do that (similar: he was in marching band and learned not to lock his knees).

You may need to practice not clenching up, you may need to familiarize yourself with the whole process so nothing sneaks up and makes you tense up. It can help to practice a visualization meditation, and proper breathing processes, so you've got some muscle memory when you're there in the moment.

I'm sorry you got such a shitty response the last time you tried. It's not magic nor is it a permanent unchangeable condition; people faint from physical tension, and there are many many many ways to manage that tension (from the patient side, but also from the provider side!). There will be a few people whose response is just too too vigorous, but you don't describe anything that sounds like that's actually the case for you.

Something to consider: I'm a little claustrophobic and had always donated in actual buildings where there's a lot of open space and stuff, and the one time I did it in a mobile blood drive bus I thought I was going to lose my shit. I *always* pick a building-based, ideally permanent blood center location now.

For what it's worth, we donated yesterday after several years off, and aside from heightened precautions (we were temped as soon as we came in the door, and had to sanitize and let it dry before touching the waiting area chairs and all the paperwork stuff, though after doing that I then had to dig my ID out twice so maybe put that in a pocket before you go in) it was all very smooth and predictable and nobody did anything without explaining what was going to happen first. I'm mostly okay with blood and needles and stuff, but I still make a point of looking away just to keep my stress levels lower.

Mind your hydration for 48 hours in advance, it really makes a difference. Same for eating real meals every meal for two days, and have a hearty low- or at least slow-carb breakfast day of. I prefer mid-morning appointments on a Saturday for this reason - up early to shower and get a good breakfast in, donation appointment between 9:30-10:30, go to lunch after. My husband and I used to have a tradition of lunch and then a movie, to make sure we rested for a bit.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:46 PM on March 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

Ten years is a long time, and it sounds like you're in a much healthier place! I think it's worth another shot. Just do like you do for a draw - don't look! At the donations I've been to, the bags and such have usually been out of sight, and I don't watch while they do the stick, and play around on my phone.

You're not wasting anyone's time and it's lovely for you to think of this. Now I think I'm going to look and see if there's any donations going on near me.
posted by Caravantea at 5:47 PM on March 15, 2020

You can donate blood if you normally have a vasovagal reaction so long as you otherwise have a normal blood pressure, you just have to inform the medical practitioner beforehand. They will lay you in a position which reduces the likelihood of you dropping BP and puts you in a faster recovery position if it happens anyway. If the person drawing your blood doesn't believe that the vasovagal reaction happens to you, just don't let them draw. Source: this reliably happens to me, but I also have low enough resting BP that I sometimes pass out anyway lol
posted by zinful at 5:57 PM on March 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

He last few times I donated, the bag was clipped to the underside of the cot so I couldn’t see it. And if I looked straight up or turned my head away from that side, I saw nothing. They let me keep my earbuds on, too.

Give it another try.
posted by kimberussell at 5:59 PM on March 15, 2020

This is exactly what I needed, thank you everyone! Especially Lyn Never for that incredibly helpful and specific advice. I will give it a try, taking all of your advice beforehand and during.

Also, I hadn’t known what to call this response, it’s super helpful to know how to refer to the vasovagal response and to know that I can mention it to prepare the person drawing the blood! And to do more research on my own.

I’m not exactly excited about donating but I am glad I can try this again. I’ve always felt guilty about not doing so and regardless of how it goes I am glad I will try again.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 6:05 PM on March 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

Drink a coca cola while you're donating. Nurses will tell you that (non-diet) Coke is a fairly robust blood volume expander. That said, I found this out because I faint sometimes after donating (especially if they don't have Coke!). It's not a big deal, they bring me a cot. It's not pleasant, but no one's ever said I can't donate after that.
posted by shadygrove at 6:57 PM on March 15, 2020

Last time I donated, there were signs by the water cooler saying that drinking a pint of water before donation greatly reduced your risk of fainting, and in the donation room there was a banner with these applied muscle tension exercises (basically clenching different parts of your body in turn) to help prevent faintness, so give them a go!

I definitely agree it’s worth trying again - I stopped for a while because I had a run of being either too anaemic or too slow-flowing to donate successfully, but now I’m back and it seems to be working fine.
posted by penguin pie at 3:29 AM on March 16, 2020

Agree with Lyn Never about hydration and eating. When I worked at a blood bank, we would encourage both. At high school blood drives (which have a lot of tiny girls who barely made the weight limit) we would make everyone drink a bottle of water when they came in.

Also agree with not looking. At all.

You can tell the phlebotomist that you've had reactions in the past. They may proactively raise your feet above your head, and maybe give you a cold pack for your forehead.

And thank you for donating!
posted by radioamy at 10:42 AM on March 16, 2020

Oh also, depending on your blood type, you might be a candidate for platelet or plasma donation instead of whole blood. Certain blood types (IIRC it's A, AB, B, but don't quote me) they need your platelets and plasma more than your red cells. Platelet/plasma donation takes a lot longer but because you don't lose the red cells you are at much lower risk of reaction.
posted by radioamy at 10:44 AM on March 16, 2020

I usually have vasovagal reactions after donating blood. I tell the doctor/nurses beforehand, so that they elevate my feet. During the draw itself, I do a series of exercises:

- 10 deep abdominal breaths
- 10 flexions of the feet (at the ankle)
- 10 flexions of the toes, as if trying to grip something with your feet

Once the blood draw is over, I sit up very slowly (it usually takes me a good half hour), while sipping some juice or water. I haven't fainted in ages (though I have had cold sweats a couple of times).
posted by snakeling at 12:20 PM on March 16, 2020

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