How giving blood benefits your health

This month, the American Red Cross says ‘thank you’ to returning donors and first timers alike by celebrating National Blood Donor Month.

We know that donating blood is one of the easiest ways to help in our community and even one of the closest ways we might come to saving a life—or three. But how can giving blood be healthy for you and what are some of the benefits?

Keeping an eye on a silent disease—High blood pressure

“We pick up a lot of people who have high blood pressure,” Bruce Newman, M.D. and medical director for the American Red Cross said. “Blood pressure is a silent disease and increases as you get older.”

High blood pressure is anything rising above 140 systolic over 90 diastolic pressure, he said.

Most people should be around 115 over 75 because “if you’re below 115 over 75, you’re not going to have any impact on your health at all.”

But just because a potential donor exhibits high blood pressure does not mean they will not be allowed to donate blood, Newman said. Donors can participate so long as their blood pressure registers below 180 over 100. But those logging high blood pressure are informed to consult their physician.

Keeping track of personal blood pressure is one of the best benefits of giving blood, he said and has helped him log his ratings to keep in good health.

“I think that’s one of the very good things that we’re doing,” Newman said.

Evading infectious disease

When you sign up to give blood, the first 40 mL of blood donated is used for screening. (A maximum of 525 mL may be donated at one time.)

This 40 mL is tested overnight through 15 different screenings, most of which are infectious diseases that include hepatitis B and C as well as HIV.

This becomes another health benefit to donors because “We do pick up people who are positive for those tests,” Newman said.

But most results tend to be false positives, meaning the blood truly is negative for the test.

The process also screens for West Nile Virus, chagas disease, a tropical parasitic disease common in Central and South America and HTLV or Human T-Lymphotropic Virus, known to cause T-cell leukemia and lymphoma.

Cancer detection

Before blood is passed on to nearby hospitals and clinics to be used, the screening process can also detect more serious conditions in donors.

While it is extremely rare, volunteers have discovered their blood houses cancers such as lymphoma, leukemia and multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells found in bone marrow.

“Those are rare,” Newman said, “But possible.”

Monitoring heart rhythm, anemia and learning your blood type

Some additional health benefits of donating blood include detection of irregular heart rhythm as well as learning blood type and assessing anemia, a condition where the body does not hold enough healthy red blood cells due to a deficiency.

“If I can, I will.”

Rob Halbach, 65 and a longtime donor of Rochester says he donates blood every eight weeks because he can.

“If I can, I will,” he said.

Donating more than 100 units of blood, Halbach urges others to participate if their health permits it.

“It doesn’t matter how common your blood (type) is, people in the hospital have the same demographic or the same percentages of need as the rare blood type,” he said, “All types are needed.”

Donor appreciation

Stephanie Ubaydi, a blood drive site coordinator at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Rochester thanks her donors by snagging a photo and a response to why each community member gives blood.

Her favorite reply so far has been: “I give blood because my mother taught me to share.”

In the past year, St. Philip’s has collected 262 units of blood, she said and her team looks forward to the upcoming blood drive on Friday, Feb. 22.

Ubaydi also blogs on behalf of the American Red Cross and her writing can be found here.

To find an upcoming blood drive, please visit www.redcrossblood.org, Be sure to click on “Make a blood donation appointment” and select your area.

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About Jen Bucciarelli

Veggie lover and aspiring word chef, reporter Jen Bucciarelli covers all things health and medicine for Rochester Media and The Community Edge. She is always on the hunt for local experts who can help improve the lives of our readers. Send her a note at JenBucciarelli@gmail.com.

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