Health Watch -- Blood Donation

Health Watch is a Public Service of the Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

Some good deeds bear repeating. Blood donation is one of them.

Many of us are spurred to donate blood by a crisis situation, such as last September's terrorist attacks, which had Americans lining up to give blood. Or we may be reminded by the local blood center issuing an alert that blood supplies are at critical levels. Some of us only think about giving blood when there's a big blood drive at work or sponsored by a radio station, when the promise of a free t-shirt is a good incentive.

But doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say this approach to blood donation is one reason blood supplies are so often low. Blood is a perishable commodity, and if everyone only donates around big events, that could lead to some blood going to waste, while blood may not be available to meet the need of another crisis. For example, platelets, one component of blood that's taken from donations, have a shelf life of only about five days, so there's almost always a shortage.

UT Southwestern doctors suggest picking dates that you're sure to remember, such as your birthday and anniversary. Pick two dates that are about six months apart, and make giving blood part of the way you acknowledge these events. That way, you'll be giving blood on a regular basis and you won't have to rely on a crisis to remind you.

When you give blood, you could be helping up to four people. Whole blood donations are often divided into blood components, such as platelets, red cells and plasma, and each of these components is used for a different reason.

Jan. 6, 2003