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Medical Is blood donation actually valuable? Are all units really used?

  1. Sep 6, 2012 #1
    I donated blood at the Red Cross yesterday, and now I'm wondering about some of the claims they make, and whether it's really worth my time to donate.

    They say that you save a life every time you donate blood, and that all units donated are used.

    I don't see how this is possible. Surely some must go to waste, especially if you're of a less desirable blood type. The shelf life is apparently a few months, so I could envision most of the blood sitting on the shelf just in case someone needs it, then being disposed down the line. I know that here in America it's very rare that someone cannot get blood, so that means that there must be excess, doesn't it?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 7, 2012 #2


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    I've never heard the claim that all units are used, in the UK they have a similar slogan of saving a life. Considering the constant need for blood I doubt that any country is running an exessive surplus.

    Just to make sure that the message is recieved though the answer to whether or not blood donation is valuable is YESSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2012
  4. Sep 7, 2012 #3
    I second that! :smile:

    It's not just blood for emergencies. Blood is used for routine surgery, blood products are used for chemo patients, etc., etc.
  5. Sep 7, 2012 #4
    As with most things in life it's not that simple.

    There are 8 human blood groups.

    Some are more common than others and there is only one type (O) which can be used instead of all others.

    This means that sometimes there will be a shortage of a particular type and a substitution has to be made.

    Particularly in cases of emergency a rarer type may be all used up and a substitution necessary. This might happen at a serious road accident, explosion or other incident.

    So for some types the Red Cross statement that all units are used may well be 100% accurate.
  6. Sep 7, 2012 #5


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    It's not a one to one donation. The blood you give is processed and becomes part of a bank of blood products. Yes, different products have different shelf lives, this is why it is so critical to keep donations coming in.
  7. Sep 7, 2012 #6
    Actually the blood requirements might go up. Newer recommendations have come out recently to check for a bunch viruses that they didnt used to check because they didnt think it mattered, but now people are becoming crazy over it. So it's likely they might throw out more.

    But as you said blood does go bad even in banks. Everything has expiration dates even in a freezer, your ice cream would be a good analogy. The value of the blood you donated today might be less valuable say 10 years from now if it's still around.
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2012
  8. Sep 9, 2012 #7
    So what if there is usually an excess of whole blood? Sometimes there isn't an excess. There is no way to predict when the real shortages appear. If people only gave when they were "sure" there is an emergency, then there would be no blood for when there is an emergency.
    There are leukemia patients who need blood every week. Usually, they get that blood. This means that usually there is an excess. Most of the blood gets thrown out. However, when there is a shortage, many of these patients are denied the blood. Then they die.
    I did have an experience in college. There was a girl with leukemia in my college. I saw some advertisements asking people to donate blood. However, I was busy and called about two months later.
    Of course, she had died. Now, I can't be sure whether my timely donation would have made a significant difference. Perhaps not. However, patients with leukemia die all the time. They chronically need blood. If there are shortages, then they suffer. You should include that in your deliberations.
    I give platelets rather than whole blood. Platelets have a shelf life of about 5 days. I am told that my contribution by platelets can be used by about five times as many people as my contribution of whole blood. So when the center calls me to say they have a shortage of platelets, I believe them.
    The process of give platelets alone is a longer and more arduous then giving whole blood. However, the chance that your blood is used is somewhat larger. Plus, they show me a movie. So I give platelets instead of whole blood. However, I would give whole blood if I couldn't give platelets.
    I understand that some of the blood that passes its expiration date is used in teaching and research. I signed a form that okays the use of my platelets in research. However, red blood cells have to get used too.
    I remember being a student in college working with a scientist who was studying blood cells. He was using ultrasound to probe molecules in the cell membrane of red blood cells. He used blood that had "expired" at the blood bank. He eviscerated the red blood cells with saline solution, making blood cell "ghosts". It didn't matter that the red blood cells couldn't be used for people anymore.
    This was fundamental research without immediate application. However, he couldn't have done it if there wasn't excess blood. So while it wasn't an immediate life saver, the people who gave that blood were contributing to long range research that could save lives some day. This was well worth some "stale" blood.
  9. Sep 9, 2012 #8

    This is one of the reasons, why blood donation is required. Long term storage is rarely done for the sake of blood transfusion, in which case it has to be freeze dried and involves costs.
  10. Sep 9, 2012 #9
    nice, learned something new. So where does the extra blood go? There are probably a lot of academic and business opportunities one can use for that
  11. Sep 14, 2012 #10
    I am I the only one who has heard of hospitals running out of blood and having to put off surgeries as a result?
    Maybe it´s not so bad in countries where people are paid for donations?

    Just found this:
    It´s from before 2010 based on the comments.

    I really feel like if they say they need it it´s because they need it, it´s not because they´re bored and they want something to do.

    I am AB positive as far as I know, so my blood is useless to everyone except other people like me and I can have everyone´s blood.
  12. Sep 14, 2012 #11
    Just because there is rarely, or even never, a shortage, doesn't mean that there is blood going to waste (or at least very much).

    There are a few reasons for this. First they are probably using the FIFO method, which stands for first in, first out. Thereby, whenever possible, the use the oldest blood first, that which is closet to expiring.

    Second, at least in America, they have some control over how much blood they collect. Most likely they are trying to maintain certain levels. If the blood has a six week shelf life, they may try and keep around 3-4 weeks supply on hand. If they become short on blood, they can start a couple blood drives, or increase how much they are willing to pay for blood, which should increase their supply.

    I think blood drives are highly effective, I remember many years ago when I was in high school, the local blood bank came to my school and asked for volunteers (they only paid us with orange juice, cookies, and a little badge). I'm sure, in that one day they collected hundreds of blood donations.
  13. Sep 15, 2012 #12
    There are actually loads of different blood types, much more than the ABO and Rh groups, but I am not sure how many of these are screened for in the blood from blood donors, perhaps the Kell antigens too as a routine. I would have thought there would be a lot of 'rare combinations' of the different groups that would be saved long-term.

    I couldn't imagine many countries having a big surplus of blood, purely from a financial standpoint if nothing else. Each unit taken must have a significant cash value in terms of the money spent to collect and store it. If there ever were an excess I'm not sure where it would go - it would depend on the country and the consent taken from the donor as to whether it could be used for research etc.

    I can certainly remember times when medical procedures have had to be delayed due to a lack of blood. So yes, I'm with the vast majority on this, every unit is vital!

    Curiously it looks like a recession may have a similar impact on (unpaid) blood donation as on other charitable donations, so now would be an even better time than normal to become a donor.
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