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Frequent blood donations safe, but not for all
October 12, 2017, 4:50 pm

Although most people can safely give blood eight weeks after their last donation, this may not be a healthy choice for some donors, says a new study on blood donations.

The large clinical study conducted in the United Kingdom and involving more than 45,000 blood donors was done to ascertain whether frequent blood donations lead to adverse health effects. ‘Frequent’, in this trial, meant every eight weeks for men and every 12 weeks for women, over a period of two years.

The study did not find any evidence that frequent donations caused ‘major adverse effects’ such as draining donors' physical energy, dimming their mental sharpness or harming their general quality of life. Nevertheless, a quarter of the frequent donors did develop iron deficiency by the two-year mark and several participants complained of symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness and trouble breathing.

Experts believe that donating frequently on a routine basis may be needlessly risky, and the shorter interval between donations is probably not ideal. They recommend that blood donors should ideally wait 12 to 16 weeks before donating again.

Blood donors give about a liter of blood each time, and this depletes them of about 200 to 250 milligrams of iron. It takes the average donor about 180 days to fully recover those iron stores, if no supplements are used; the recovery time shrinks to 90 days if the donor daily takes a standard iron pill.

The currently recommended blood-donation intervals do not reflect this scientific evidence. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration has set eight weeks as the minimum for men and women. In France and Germany, men can donate every eight weeks, and women every 12, while the United Kingdom has longer wait times.

One reason is that practical concerns, such as maintaining an adequate donor blood supply, have tended to color the blood donation campaigns. But now, several US blood banks have started measuring donors’ iron levels and recommending longer donation intervals to people who are found to be iron deficient.


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