Did you know that someone in the US will need a platelet or blood donation every two seconds? And an estimated five million people will need blood transfusions every year? That’s a lot of blood! Donating blood is a fantastic way to positively impact someone else’s life, and according to the American Red Cross, you can help save as many as three lives with a single donation. So it’s a pretty good idea to consider becoming a blood donor.
If you’d like to donate blood but have diabetes, you may be wondering if it’s safe to do so. Because diabetes affects your blood sugar levels, you may think that it’s likely safer not to, but that may not be true. As long as you meet the eligibility requirements, manage your condition, and live a healthy lifestyle, there’s no reason not to donate blood.
Even though it’s safe to donate blood with diabetes, you should know a few things about blood donation and blood glucose levels before visiting a donation center or blood bank. Remember that while donating blood isn’t unsafe, it’s a good idea to pay close attention to your blood glucose levels as you recover from your donation. If you have any changes in glucose values or have symptoms (like dizziness, lightheadedness, fatigue, and nausea), consult with a doctor. Read on to learn more about donating blood with diabetes and what precautions you can take before and after your donation to ensure you’re doing so safely.
What Are the Requirements to Donate Blood?
Is this your first time considering a blood donation? Do you know enough about the eligibility requirements and the donation process? Before we begin to talk about how donating blood may or may not affect you, here’s a quick rundown of some of the things that make you eligible to donate blood. While this list is specific to the United States, you’ll likely see similar eligibility requirements worldwide.
- There’s an age requirement. In the United States, you usually have to be 17 years or older, but this varies by state. In some states, you can donate as young as 16 if you have parental consent.
- You can’t be underweight. You must be at least 110 pounds to donate blood.
- It’s essential to be in good health if you want to donate blood, which means you should not be sick at the time of your donation. At the donation center, you’re likely to have your temperature taken, and you may have to answer a few questions about your health.
- A few other conditions and health issues can affect your donation, so remember: you should not currently be postpartum, living with HIV/AIDS, or pregnant. You should not have low iron levels, cancer, heart disease, respiratory issues, use recreational drugs, or drink excessively, and more.
- Your blood glucose levels will need to be in a reasonable range since blood with too much sugar in it doesn’t store well. At Nutrisense, we recommend fasting values <120 and postprandial responses <160. For non-diabetics, we recommend fasting values between 70 and 90 and postprandial responses <140.
People taking medication for high blood pressure can usually donate blood. Still, the donation center may check your blood pressure at the time of donation to ensure it’s not dangerously high or low. Anyone taking the blood thinner Warfarin is not allowed to donate blood. If you find that your blood glucose levels still fluctuate too much, we suggest taking some time to work with your doctor and bring them to a reliably steady place before you consider donating blood.
If you’re wondering whether you meet the eligibility criteria, it’s a good idea to call a healthcare provider before visiting a donation center or blood bank. Every site will have a screening process in place that you will have to complete upon arrival. Just so you’re prepared, make sure you’re ready to disclose information about your diabetes, your diabetes management processes, and any diabetes medications you’re taking.
Does it Matter if You Have Type I or Type II Diabetes?
No, it doesn't matter what type of diabetes you have. Whether you have type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes, your ability to donate blood is usually the same. This is because your ability to donate blood will depend on whether you meet the eligibility requirements and have steady blood sugar levels, not the type of diabetes you have. Of course, it's always a good idea to check with your doctor before you decide to donate.
How Do You Prepare to Donate Blood if You Have Diabetes?
Whether you’re pre-diabetic, taking certain types of blood thinners, or have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, it’s a good idea to take certain precautions before and after blood donations. Getting medical advice is a good idea if you also have any other medical conditions that may affect you during or after the donation process. And whether you have health conditions or not, it’s likely a good idea to follow these handy tips and tricks before and after a blood donation.
Before donating blood, you should try your best to:
- Keep blood glucose levels within your normal range the week of donation.
- Hydrate, and make sure that you drink enough water before your donation. It’s also a good idea to increase your water intake a few days before your scheduled donation.
- Make sure you get eight hours [or more] of sleep the night before you donate blood.
- Don’t plan a strenuous workout just before you’re donating blood.
- Eat balanced meals leading up to your donation. This is especially important when you have diabetes. Maintaining a healthy diet that keeps your blood glucose levels stable is key to having control of your condition.
- Cut back on the coffee immediately before you donate blood. You don’t need to skip it but try not to add any extra cups of coffee or tea to your diet the day that you donate.
- Prepare a list of the medications that you’re on so you have them ready during your donation. Include any vitamins or herbal supplements.
- Cut out cigarettes before your donation, and try not to indulge after you donate either.
- Remember that whether you have diabetes or not, you can’t donate if you have alcohol in your system. Due to side effects that may occur after the donation, try not to drink that day at all.
- Eat iron-rich foods such as meat, eggs, spinach, beans, and whole grains before the donation.
- Carry identification with you, like your driver’s license.
After donating blood, make sure to:
- Check your blood sugar frequently. Some people who have diabetes find that their levels fluctuate after they give blood. So, it’s essential to monitor this closely.
- Make sure you’re taking your insulin as directed by a doctor, without skipping any doses.
- Staying hydrated is extremely important, so remember to drink enough water.
- Keep your physical activity to a minimum for a while. Don’t plan any intense workouts for after your donation.
- If you’re dizzy, pushing through may make this feeling worse. If the feeling persists, call a doctor.
- If you feel lightheaded, sit down and take a moment. Just like with the dizzy feeling, if it doesn’t ease up, call a doctor.
- Stick to a regular, well-balanced diet. It’s important to try and avoid dramatic glucose fluctuations at this time.
- If your arm is sore after the donation, check with your doctor to see if there are any pain relievers you can safely take to alleviate some of the pain.
- Don’t remove your band-aid right away. Keeping it on can help you avoid bruising.
Whether you have diabetes or not, it’s a good idea to rest well and drink plenty of water after a donation. It's best to seek medical advice if you experience concerning symptoms, are on diabetes medications, or want additional information before or after donating blood.
Can Giving Blood Actually Help Diabetes?
You may have read that donating blood can actually be beneficial if you have diabetes, and we’re sure you’re curious about what this means for you. New studies show that donating blood can lead to a short window of improved insulin production and glucose tolerance. Data showed a difference in test subjects for up to three weeks after a donation. Some studies believe that this may in part be due to lower ferritin (a blood protein that contains iron) levels in your blood after a donation. Studies show that this increases insulin sensitivity, but more research is necessary before any claims can be established.
While all these studies look promising, it’s important to note that there’s still research to be done. And remember that this is not a “cure” for diabetes, so don’t start visiting the blood bank as a form of diabetes management. If you’re donating blood, you should not be doing so more than every 56 days—if your diabetes is under control and you’re healthy. Remember that whether you have other health conditions or not, it’s always a good idea to consult with your doctor to make sure it’s a safe option for you.
Engage with Your Blood Glucose Levels with Nutrisense
Your blood sugar levels can significantly impact how your body feels and functions. That’s why stable blood glucose levels can be an important factor in supporting overall wellbeing.
With Nutrisense, you’ll be able to track your blood glucose levels over time using a CGM, so you can make lifestyle choices that support healthy living.
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Kara Collier is the co-founder and VP of Health at Nutrisense, one of America’s fastest-growing wellness-tech startups, where she leads the health team. She is a Forbes 30 under 30 recipient, frequent podcast guest & conference speaker.