The community of people with diabetes is wonderful. We are a generous, caring, creative, and grit-filled group of people who overall wants the best for every person living with diabetes. While we do our best to serve our group’s needs, I’m certain that we all do many other things to help the community we live in and care about. We may even go so far as to work or volunteer away from our own homes to help others in need, not specific to diabetes.
One way to help outside of the diabetes realm is with blood donation. Over the years as an educator, I’ve heard the question “Can I donate blood since I have diabetes?”, or other statements such as “I can’t donate blood because I have diabetes”. It is a misunderstood idea that because of diabetes you can’t participate in this much needed volunteer opportunity. This past weekend in our parish we had a post-service announcement reminding parishioners of the opportunity to donate blood and they interestingly provided information to help people determine eligibility.
I’ve known for a long time that people with diabetes ARE in fact able to donate blood (as well as plasma for those who may wonder about this as well) but I thought it might be a good focus for those who want to do more outside of the diabetes world. To help clear up any misinformation you might have as a potential donor, read on.
Direct from the American Red Cross, you can see that it means a lot to those who may need a blood transfusion or another product of blood, “Every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood. It is essential for surgeries, cancer treatment, chronic illnesses, and traumatic injuries. Whether a patient receives whole blood, red cells, platelets or plasma, this lifesaving care starts with one person making a generous donation.” With this last year decreasing the ability to go places as well as the worry about visiting more clinical locations, the blood supply is at a low level and will take the help of many to get back to the levels needed.
This is important, but as we know with diabetes, there are variables to consider. Thankfully, there are good guidelines defining those that are eligible as well as a checklist to consider for donating blood successfully and healthfully when you live with diabetes.
According to the NIH, diabetes itself shouldn’t impact a person’s ability to donate if several criteria are met. In general, someone who donates should:
Be in good health – no current illness, cold, or flu and be free of symptoms of illness
Be at least 17 years old
Weight 110 pounds or more
Be prepared to fill out paperwork to register as a donor, and use a valid ID
Answer questions about your health and any travel
Expect to have vitals taken such as blood pressure and temperature
Plan about 10-15 minutes for a donation of a pint of blood
Plan to rest for about 15 minutes post-donation (typically you are offered snacks and juice/water post-donation)
Plan about an hour or less for the full donation process.
Hydrate well after donation
What you should do if you have diabetes and want to donate blood:
Check with your physician ahead of time to ensure he/she agrees with your decision to donate based on your current management.
Have well-managed glucose levels, if you have had a difficult time with management leading up to donation it is recommended to wait until levels are more stable
Monitor BG heading into the donation – blood with larger amounts of glucose does not store/keep well after donation
Plan to bring a list of your medications outside of insulin/oral meds
Plan to discuss other health conditions and medication used for treatment
To prepare for donation:
Be well hydrated with water
Be well rested
Do not engage in intense exercise (aerobic or anaerobic) prior to or directly after donation
Eat a healthy, iron-rich diet before and after donation
Avoid caffeine, alcohol, fatty foods, and smoking
Pack diabetes supplies
Test BG before donation as well as during and after
Pack snacks for post-donation. While snacks will be provided, most people with diabetes have go-to snacks that work well for them, so plan to pack and bring these along.
Blood glucose levels should not be impacted during the process of blood donation, so you shouldn’t worry about a significant rise or fall in BG levels immediately. Blood donation cannot be more than every 56 days and it may be advisable to increase the time between donations for those with diabetes. This is related to a study in those with type 2 diabetes showing at the conclusion, “Patients with type 2 diabetes contributing to whole blood donation programs can be at risk of falsely lowered HbA1c. This could lead to a wrong interpretation of their glycemic control by their general practitioner or internist.”
To consider blood donation and decreasing the chance of an impact on A1C, less frequent donation, perhaps every 4-6 months instead of every 56 days, would be advisable. With tools such as continuous glucose monitors in use today, the ability to continue to track real-time glucose data is useful to show an accurate range of glucose in case the A1C is reflecting lower than expected results following donation.
All in all, consider donating blood if possible. Evaluate your health, your management, and see if it would fit to serve the needs of those outside of the diabetes community. As always, if it is something you would like to do and need assistance getting to a healthy point of management consider setting up a visit with any of our clinicians at Integrated Diabetes Services. We can certainly help you navigate and get on the road to donating blood.
Integrated Diabetes Services, Director of Lifestyle and Nutrition.
Jennifer holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Nutrition and Biology from the University of Wisconsin. She is a Registered (and Licensed) Dietitian, Certified Diabetes Educator, and Certified Trainer on most makes/models of insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitoring systems.