Why donate platelets?
Your blood is made up of several components, including red blood cells, white blood cells, plasma and platelets. Platelets are small cells that help your blood clot. Platelets in your body form a barrier at the site of an injury and give your body a chance to begin the healing process.
Some people donate platelets out of curiosity or because they've donated blood in the past and want to understand another donation process. Or you might donate platelets because you want to help others who need platelets. For example, people with leukemia or other cancers might not have enough platelets because of their disease or treatment.
What happens when you donate?
Before you donate, a medical professional will check your vital signs, including your iron level, pulse and temperature. As long as your vitals are good and you pass the medical history questionnaire, you will go to the donation area. Because of regulations set forth by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, some people are barred from donating.
Many donation facilities have comfortable chairs, TVs and headphones to make your donation time a more pleasant experience. In the donation area, you'll sit in a chair, possibly a recliner, and have a needle stuck in one of your arms.
A machine near your chair will pull blood from your body, separate the platelets and return your red blood cells and other blood components back to you. The machine will go in three-minute draw cycles and then switch to a three-minute return cycle. The entire donation process takes about two hours.
Does it hurt?
The needle stick will hurt on some level, which will depend on your pain tolerance. The donation process itself should not hurt.
What are the risk factors?
You might become dizzy during or after the procedure. Some people might faint, and it's important to sit for a little while after the procedure to make sure you're ready to stand. Also, it's important to have a good meal and drink plenty of nonalcoholic fluids beforehand.
You might feel nauseated afterward, and some people vomit. Again, eating a good meal beforehand can help with this.
What's the recovery time?
After the donation, you should avoid heavy lifting or strenuous exercise. You should keep the bandage on your arm for two hours to keep the blood clot that has formed from breaking. Up to half of your platelets can generally be lost without ill effects. Your body will replace your platelets usually within 48 hours.
What's the follow-up?
You can donate platelets generally every seven days, in part because donated platelets have a shelf life of about five days.
You shouldn't have to seek any follow-up medical care after donating platelets.
Source: Cynthia Houck, supervisor and tech at the Oklahoma Blood Institute; The National Institutes of Health Clinical Center; The Mayo Clinic; the United Kingdom's National Health Service; The American Red Cross.