Five myths about blood donation

If you wouldn’t think twice about receiving blood then you should think about donating.

9 mins read

If you’re not feeling Valentine’s Day this year then celebrate Donor Day instead! Today we’re celebrating donors of blood, marrow, tissue and organs.

These donations save lives. Some examples of recipients are mothers who have just given birth, children with cancer and victims of traffic collisions. One blood donation alone can save up to three lives. 

People who have received a blood transfusion since January 1 1980 are not able to become donors themselves. Scotblood states that this is a precaution to reduce the spread of  variant Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (vCJD). The risk of contracting vCJD through a transfusion is very small. The extra precaution exists in an attempt to completely eradicate vCJD from the UK population.

However, this does mean that the very people who value blood transfusions the most cannot reciprocate this gift for another. We need people to donate. There is a huge demand and without constant donations we would not be able to keep up the blood stocks.

As of Saturday, February 13, the current blood stocks across Scotland are: O- (6 days); A- (5 days); B- (4 days); AB- (9 days); O+ (7 days); A+ (5 days); B+ (7 days); AB+ (11 days). You find out your blood type via donation and if you have a rare one, or if you are black then it can be even more important for you to donate. If we have too few people donating who are urgently needed then people will not be able to receive the life-saving medical treatment that they need.

If you wouldn’t think twice about receiving blood then you should think about donating.

I have been donating blood for over five years now, since immediately after turning 17. I am especially motivated in the name of those who have been helped and now cannot donate themselves. It’s a very easy process and registering can be carried out online. You must wait at least 12 weeks between donations, and booking online helps you track your appointments. Below I’ve addressed five common blood donation myths.

Vegetarians and vegans can’t give blood

WRONG! The misconception is that non-meat eaters won’t have enough iron in their blood to donate. The truth is that anyone with a balanced diet should be fine. You get tested before donation to check you are not anaemic with a small prick of your finger. 

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Image credit: Skylar Kang on

You can’t donate if you have tattoos and piercings

WRONG! You can! After the date of your last tattoo or piercing you do need to wait four months until your next donation. This is to reduce any risk of blood-borne viruses, for example Hepatitis B, from being spread by unsterile needles.

thoughtful young woman with bijouterie and tattoo
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You can’t donate because of your sexual history

WRONG! Most people are able to donate. You must not donate if you have tested positive for HIV, you are a carrier for Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C, or if you have ever been treated for Syphilis.

Currently, you cannot donate if you are a man who has had sex with another man in the last three months. However, the BBC has reported a huge step forwards for men wishing to donate. In Scotland, it is expected from Summer 2021 that men who have sex with men and have had the same partner for three months or more will be able to give blood. This will lead to a higher degree of equality and more donors. It is expected that people will be given private risk assessments. All data regarding blood donations will be kept in confidence. 

You must also wait if you have had sex with a partner who has injected drugs (including body-building or tanning drugs) within the last three months. 

It is possible that sex workers may be able to donate who have not received money or drugs for sex in the last three months. 

See Scotblood for further guidance.

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It takes a long time

WRONG! The aim is to get peoples’ donations completed within an hour of their arrival and I’ve never had to wait past that length of time. The first step is to answer a health questionnaire. Some people receive theirs through the post and take them along. I usually just fill one out there. Someone will then ask you to confirm your address before a private chat with a nurse. The nurse will go check you are eligible to donate and not anaemic and then straight to donation. The atmosphere is very relaxed with music in the background. Feeling at ease makes your appointment pass by very quickly.

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It’s painful

WRONG! I am absolutely terrified of needles. Before you start donating they prick your finger to check whether or not you are anaemic. After that’s done I feel more relieved, the little needle was fine and so I’m now ready for the big one. I always tell the nurses I’m scared of needles and they get me all hooked up to the machine so efficiently. Once that’s done I don’t look at the blood because that makes me feel a bit ill. Instead, I focus on the hand and leg exercises you can do while you donate. The nurses are with you all the way through checking-up on you so you feel very well looked after. In a blink of an eye it’s all over and your donation if complete

person getting his blood check
Image credit: Pranidchakan Boonrom on

At the end you get a drink of water or juice and a snack of crisps or biscuits and that’s plenty of motivation for anyone. You can become a superhero and save a life!

After your donation your blood will be tested for viruses such as HIV. In the rare circumstance that a donation does test positive, the donor will be confidentially contacted. If the donation tests negative then it will be sent to one of Scotland’s 39 blood banks for use. The reason we need constant donations is because blood only has a shelf life of 35 days.

It is completely safe to go in the current times. I donated during lockdown and it was as relaxed an atmosphere as ever. I urge you to donate if you can, especially black people, younger people, and those with rare blood types as your donations are especially vital. 

Image credit: Scotblood

Featured image credit: Anna Schvets on Pexels.

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