Healthy Living

Dr. Mindy Goldman, Executive Medical Director, Donor & Transplantation Services, Canadian Blood Services

I recently sat down with Dr. Mindy Goldman, Executive Medical Director, Donor & Transplantation Services, to get some tips on ways to improve your blood donation experience and hear about the latest news regarding upcoming changes to Canadian Blood Services’ blood donation criteria.

How safe is blood donation?
Making a blood donation is very safe, and most donors have a very good donation experience. There’s no risk of catching a disease – every kit (needle and collection bag) is sterile and only used once. That being said, you do lose approximately half a litre of blood when you donate, so some people may feel light-headed or weak. This is why I wanted to share some tips with donors that may help prevent that from happening.

Let’s begin then with what a donor should eat the day of donation. What do you suggest?
Drink plenty of non-alcoholic fluids (water, sports drinks, juice or pop) as you do lose fluid when you donate. And just as important, make sure you eat something that day. Don’t come in on an empty stomach, make sure you’ve at least had something for breakfast.

Is it ok to exercise on the morning of my donation?
You can exercise provided you make sure to rehydrate afterward.

Can a person donate if they have a cold or allergies?
If you have a mild cold or mild allergies; you’re sneezing or have a runny nose but in general feel ok, then yes you can donate. But if you’re really feeling under the weather – have a fever for example – we would ask that you postpone your donation; that’s for the safety of both the donor and the recipient.

Is there any other time when it would not be a good idea to donate?
Well, it’s not a good idea to donate if you’re hungover as you may be a bit dehydrated and that could contribute to feeling light-headed afterward.

What about medication?
For most medications, there’s no problem with donating but I would recommend calling our toll-free number at 1 888 2 DONATE (1 888 236-6283) to find out for sure.

Does donating blood affect your athletic performance?
If you’re a recreational athlete, you should be able to continue your activities the next day but you may notice small drop in peak performance. This is due to the loss of haemoglobin (the molecule in red blood cells that carries oxygen). If you’re a competitive athlete, I would recommend not donating in the few weeks leading up to an event or race.

How soon before a donation should you eat?
You should eat and drink something right after your donation and spend at least 15 minutes in the rest area. I would recommend salty snacks for most people because when you increase your salt intake you retain fluid. In fact, most cookies have quite a bit of salt in them so they’re a good option unless you’re on a sodium-restricted diet.

Do you have any other suggestions to improve the donation experience?
I often tell people to keep themselves distracted by bringing a book or some music to listen to. You just have to be careful when turning the page when you have the needle in your arm.

What about after a donor leaves the clinic, what should he or she do?
For the rest of the day, drink plenty of fluids, avoid strenuous activities and when you get home, remove the bandage and wash the donation area with soap and water to prevent a skin rash.

Do you have any tips for regular donors?
Well, as you know, we do encourage people to come back and donate regularly, you can return every 56 days. I’d say if you’re donating twice a year or more we encourage you to increase your iron intake by eating iron-rich foods. Taking a multivitamin that includes iron can also be helpful. For female donors, iron supplements may also be needed. These can be purchased over the counter, but this should be discussed with your physician.